Two interesting developments have occurred since the Herald put its content behind a paywall in September.
First, literally hundreds of people have subscribed to the newspaper, giving it the biggest two-month boost in circulation in years. Perhaps in history.
We’ve had some good discussions with readers, many of whom question the Herald’s role in the community. After all, some feel we should be a free public service and therefore are disappointed at the approach we’ve taken.
And we’ve learned that customer service in a time of historic transition is essential and fraught with its own set of troubles.
Wednesday, the Herald will host its first ever membership event, titled “Meet the Herald,” in the first-floor Community Room (375 Second Ave. North), where our members – a new term that is replacing the word “subscribers” – are invited to come and visit with the Herald staff about, well, about the Herald. Please use the alley entrance.
The doors open at 9 a.m. At 9:30 will be a short presentation, followed by a question-and-answer period with the Herald’s managers. Members can meet our staff – including some reporters – and tour our work area.
Perhaps most important, anyone who is struggling with our new registration procedures can visit with employees who can help. Readers who can’t seem to get the Herald on their iPad or smartphone should bring in those devices. We’ll see if we can help work out the bugs.
Coffee and cookies will be served; the event will last until 11 a.m.
We prefer our members visit the event’s website (https://meettheherald.eventbrite.com) and register, although it’s OK to simply stop by. However, future events will require registration.
It will be the first of a series of events held in the coming year to reach out to those who have maintained their connection to the Herald.
Paywalls aren’t a new phenomenon and the Herald certainly isn’t among the first to put content behind one. The New York Times went behind a paywall in 2011, setting an example that newspapers nationwide followed. In fact, our own paywall approach was modeled after the one taken by the Times.
Perhaps it all came later than it should have. Newspaper companies for years expected that print advertising would simply migrate online as readers did the same. But when those assumptions first were made – back in the late 1990s and early 2000s – newspapers were not competing for online advertising dollars against Facebook and Google. Back then, concerns about online dollars were quelled by the presence of behemoth print advertisers like Macy’s and Sears.
The gray clouds on the distant revenue horizon churned into a hurricane as the retail apocalypse hit, as internet advertising options increased and as reader habits evolved.
So we’re evolving, too.
The Herald now is a digital-first operation. UND hockey scores are available minutes after each game concludes, via the Herald website. The next morning, they are available in our e-edition, which looks just like the printed copy of the Herald. Same for news from the City Council.
Other evening news will still find its way into the print edition of the Herald, but – as readers already know – it often comes a day later. But it will publish first on the website.
Some are disappointed in the new approach. We get it, and we’ve heard a lot about it.
But we’re resolute in the belief that this is the most prudent, financially sound way forward. Thousands of people still rely upon the Herald for their local news, and why not? The Herald wrote 75 local stories over six days last week; recent six-day spans before that saw us top 80.
We would like to tell our members about it. Meanwhile, we also would like to hear our members’ suggestions and comments, and Wednesday’s event will offer that opportunity. If nothing else, it will give our customers a chance to put faces to the names they see in the Herald, or to attach a face to the voice they hear on the telephone. Attendees can come see where and how we work.
Generally speaking, media didn’t change much over the course of the past century. Newspapers grew in prominence in the 1800s, followed by radio and then TV. Sure, some things changed – color ink in newspapers, satellites that beamed TV signals – but the modus operandi really was the same for 100 years.
Now, the internet has foisted incredible upheaval upon the industry.
Media has changed.
The Herald has to change.
So we’re changing.
And we want those who are experiencing this change with us to meet us, to visit with us, and to tell us their opinions, too.
Korrie Wenzel has been publisher of the Herald since 2014.