History in the making: Big changes to GazetteXtra due July 30

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Scott Angus
Sunday, June 30, 2013

JANESVILLE—Truly historic events come along every few years at a newspaper. They involve huge news that fills the front page and affects us all or significant changes in how we produce and deliver that news.

One of those historic events is coming July 30. I can't predict the news, so it likely won't be a big breaking story. This involves a monumental change at The Gazette and its website that will go a long way in deciding this company's future.

On that date, we will change our business model so that only subscribers will have full access to gazettextra.com. That's a big change, given that we and most other papers have given away our content on the web for years, believing that our online visitors would lure advertisers and that the resulting revenue would sustain us.

Things didn't work out like we'd hoped. So we're joining hundreds of other papers across the country and globe in taking a new approach. Headlines and content not exclusive to gazettextra.com will be open to all, but the best of what we produce—the strong local stories, photos, videos and more that are our franchise—will be available only to paying customers.

The historic part involves not only the change in who accesses our news and how. It also involves a major shift in where we hope to get the money we need to continue producing the important community journalism that readers have come to expect from our newspaper and website.

Here's the kicker: You, our loyal customers, will pay more. We wish it didn't have to be that way, but we have no choice. Our expenses continue to increase, and we need new revenue. Our website strategy also allows us to pursue new readers and new advertisers, as well. This isn't about padding our bankbook. It's about ensuring our future and ensuring the community continues to have a strong local news source.

Speaking of history, here's a brief summary of how things used to work in this business and what's changed. Until the last few years, advertising revenue paid for the vast majority of our operation—about 80 percent. The Internet—among other factors, including the struggling economy—has changed that. Advertisers have more options than ever, and they're using them. Print ad revenue in newspapers across the country is down markedly.

That means we need readers to pay a greater share of the cost of the products we deliver to them. Put a simpler way, advertising has largely subsidized your paper in the past but won't as much going forward.

As we explain in letters going out to our subscribers next week, the increase is only a few cents a day, but it represents an overall 30 percent hike for most subscribers. Single-copy prices will increase by a corresponding amount.

As those letters also emphasize, though, the added cost comes with added benefits. We believe the vast majority of people who value what we do will decide that the tradeoff is worth it.

Most people will be “all-access” customers, meaning they will get the paper delivered seven days a week and have access to all of our content in a variety of digital formats. The digital arena is where most of the enhancements will be available.

For starters, we'll have spiffy new technology called “responsive design” that will recognize the device on which you visit gazettextra.com and adjust the screen size and format to provide the best possible experience. That means readers will be able to easily and comfortably view our content from anywhere on smartphones, tablets or personal computers. No apps will be needed.

Beyond that, we have ambitious plans to provide more content on a timelier basis. Visitors who return to gazettextra.com throughout the day will find regular updates on breaking news, along with fresh stories, photos and even videos to keep them informed on the most important and interesting developments in southern Wisconsin. We'll also have a new interactive games and comics package to attract and retain visitors to the site.

These changes have been a long time coming, but we believe in our strategy going forward.

We're confident that most of you will understand and embrace the new model that will allow us to continue to be the first draft of history for many years to come.

Scott W. Angus is editor of The Gazette and vice president of news for Bliss Communications. His email is sangus@gazettextra.com. Follow him on Twitter at @sangus_.

Last updated: 8:35 am Tuesday, July 30, 2013

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