After my local newspaper of record, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, announced layoffs local reporter Graham Moomaw asked this question:
Now seems like a good time to talk basics: If you don’t subscribe to a local paper, why not? What would it take to get you to pay for news?
I’m a digital subscriber to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. What I write below will be solely in that context, as a customer writing about what I like and what I don’t. I make no claims to expertise in newspaper design nor the newspaper market. I don’t know how to run RTD’s business and have empathy for those who lost their jobs.
I’m a 36-year-old white male with a college degree who’s a city resident. I get most of my news on the Internet and do my morning reading on my iPad riding a GRTC bus to work. I consider myself a member of Generation Catalano, on the cusp between Gen X and Millenials. I grew up with the Washington Post delivered to my house everyday. My 10-year-old daughter sees a paper newspaper as a novelty.
What I Like
I subscribe to the Times-Dispatch for the local and semi-local reporting. I’m a Richmond City nerd and I love Ned Oliver’s coverage of City Council. I’m glad I see Graham Moomaw at every Tom Periello event. Michael Paul Williams’s columns are some of the best I’ve ever read. The paper’s coverage of the Virginia General Assembly is essential. The best compliment I can give them is that when they describe an event that I participated in, they describe it accurately and fairly. It makes me trust that when I read about an event I didn’t attend, they’ll be making a good effort to get it right.
The recent redesign of richmond.com isn’t bad either. It’s pleasant on the eyes, but the content I like personally can be hard to find.
What I Don’t Like: Wire Service/National News
I skip any article with an AP byline. To describe the national news coming in my direction as a fire hose is an understatement. Trust me, any national story will make its way to me whether I want it to or not.
I come to the Richmond Times-Dispatch for the content written in-house. Anything that’s not that is noise to me and makes my experience worse.
Grant replied on Twitter:
Agree 100% that we need to be more Richmond- and Va.-centric. I think there’s a sense that older readers still rely on us for ALL their news
I’d argue that you can’t have it both ways. Choosing to serve these older readers is a fine choice, but doing so makes the experience worse for digital customers who feel the same way I do. Having national wire service stories in the mix makes it much, much harder to have the great in-house content trickle up to the top of the RTD’s CMS.
What I Don’t Like: Anonymous Editorial
This section might rub people the wrong way—I’m going to write my emotional opinion without any attempt to persuade. As a paying customer, I subscribe to the Richmond Times-Dispatch in spite of its editorial section. I dislike it enough that nearly every month I weigh whether or not I want to keep giving my $9 to the paper.
I’m not going to back up my claims with any links, but as a customer I think the Richmond Times-Dispatch Editorial Board causes harm. I say this not because I disagree with their politics (which I do), but because they are so clearly playing ”the game” of politics. Their anonymous opinion pieces aren’t what they porport to be, discussion of the merits of a particular issue, but are deliberately fit into the larger narrative of the national Conservative news sphere. Political moral frames should influence one’s opinion pieces, but the editorial section of the RTD feels like long term manipulation rather than attempts at persuasion. I hate feeling played and I’m indignant when I see someone trying to play others.
I’ll also add that personally, I’d like to see opinion pieces from people who actually like Richmond. This isn’t to say you can’t disagree on the direction our city is going, but if you hate it so much, you don’t have to live here. It’s one thing to not be in favor of one particular policy or another, it’s another thing to want everything to fail.
Graham Moomaw replied to some folks on Twitter:
That’s a decision made by a handful of people on the 4th floor. Should the dozens of hard news reporters on the 2nd floor be judged by it?
I don’t judge the reporters by how much I loathe the editorial pages, but it does make me reluctant to buy the product that funds those reporters.
What I Hope
I hope that there continue to be many different ways for people to write things down and get paid for doing so. I hope the Richmond Times-Dispatch finds a way to keep itself in business, even if it’s in a product I don’t ultimately decide to purchase. I have faith that the human need to share information and value those who dig for it will outlive any one business or publication.