With Washington Post paywall, links on Twitter don’t count against the meter

The Washington Post building in Washington, D.C.

The Washington Post building in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Washington Post this week announced details on their new paywall, a “metered subscription model,” according to a letter from Post publisher Katharine Weymouth, that will be phased in beginning June 12.

Through this new system, anyone accessing The Post’s website “will initially be able to view 20 pieces of content per month before being asked to subscribe,” writes Weymouth. Digital subscriptions start at $9.99 a month and “home delivery subscribers will continue to have complimentary access to all of The Post’s digital products.”

One detail from Weymouth’s letter that might be of interest to those that access The Post’s website through links on Twitter, Facebook or other websites where its content is shared: “Readers who come to The Post through search engines or shared links will be able to access the linked page regardless of the number of articles they have previously viewed.” A Washington Post PR representative confirmed via Twitter that this includes a link sent in a tweet.

I’ll be interested to see how long it takes me to hit the paywall, as the majority of my Post reading now comes through links from the paper’s official accounts, reporters and columnists that I follow on Twitter.


The Mike Wise Issue in One Tweet

Twitter logo initial

Twitter logo image via Wikipedia

Regarding Washington Post columnist Mike Wise and his experiment on Twitter—where he sent out tweets containing made-up information to basically test a theory and see if people would pass it on without verifying its accuracy—this tweet by John Ourand with Sports Business Journal says it all: “@MikeWiseguy You aen’t right about “nobody checking facts” on Twitter. People trust you and WaPo and figure your “news” is accurate.”

Ourand then followed that with a tweet to say: “@mikewiseguy A better test would be to set up an anonymous account and see how many follow fake news then. My guess is not many.”

When someone sees something reported by a Washington Post reporter—on Twitter or elsewhere—they assume it’s already been verified. And I think it’s completely understandable that someone would make that assumption. Outlets often say “so and so is reporting that such and such will…”  They’re covering for themselves in case the info ends up being inaccurate and giving credit to the source at the same time. Retweeting accomplishes these things as well.

I agree with Ourand, if Wise really wanted to test out whether people would pass along news without fact checking it, he should have tried using an anonymous account. But a tweet from Wise, or someone else who has built a reputation in the sports journalism business, is going to be taken as the truth or at the very least, worth forwarding along and credited to the source so that everyone’s clear on where it came from.

Whether we’re talking about Twitter or everyday offline interactions, when some people see someone say something newsworthy, or that they find interesting, they tend to tell others about it. If it were a stranger reporting NFL news, people might not repeat that news to others or they might investigate first. But when it’s Wise sending the tweet, people assume he’s already done his fact checking and, if he hasn’t, it’s his name that’s on the line more than theirs. It’d be different if a fairly unknown individual’s reporting had been retweeted and passed on by news outlets and others—then I’d put the blame more on those who put trust in someone who maybe had not earned it yet.

I thought Wise’s apology on his radio show (which I only read and did not hear) was well done and particularly nice to see in an age when many public figures issue apologies that aren’t really apologies.  But I still don’t agree with Wise’s tweet that came prior to that, in which he said he was sorry but also said that he “was right about nobody checking facts or sourcing.” Ourand hit the nail on the head with his tweet back to Wise. Trusted news sources are considered exactly that, trusted.

Nats Writer Mark Zuckerman & Questions on New Journalism Models

If you missed the story a few week’s back, this is just cool. Mark Zuckerman, former Nats/MLB beat writer for The Washington Times, started a blog and then a campaign to raise funds to travel to and report on Nats spring training. He set a goal of $5,000 on February 8 and surpassed that in just over a day. As of this posting, he’s raised over $10,000.

At a time when paywalls and the future of journalism are hot topics, fundraising successes like Zuckerman’s bring up some questions:

Are people more likely to support a freelance reporter with funding than pay a news organization for online content?

Is a donate-only-if-you-want model something that could work for a traditional media outlet and not just a single writer?

Are there some local journalists (in DC or elsewhere) with a big enough following that they could consistently make more money through a self-employed Zuckerman-type model than they can working for their current employer?

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Washington Post: I’d Like a Saturday/Sunday Subscription Option

If I have any time to sit down and read the print edition of the newspaper, it’s on the weekend. Those are the days I’m in less of a hurry to get out the door and I can sometimes sit there with my coffee and enjoy the paper, which for me is The Washington Post.

But this only happens on Sundays. Saturdays are out, not because I don’t have time, but because there are currently only two Washington Post subscription options: seven-days-a-week or Sunday only.

I could sign up for seven-days-a-week but I don’t need it Monday through Friday. I could also go out and pick up a copy of the Saturday paper, which I occasionally do, but that kind of ruins the whole read-it-in-your-pajamas-while-you-drink-coffee-and-eat-breakfast experience.

Several years ago, I heard a member of the Post‘s staff propose a weekend only subscription during a washingtonpost.com online chat (their name escapes me and I can’t find a link to it) and I’m a fan of this.

I would guess there are a good number of people in my situation—we’re unlikely to sign up for everyday delivery, but the Post could be making more money off us if they had a way for us to get Saturday and Sunday delivery, rather than just Sundays.

Perhaps the Post fears they’ll lose too many full-time subscribers who would downgrade to this option? There’s definitely the potential for this to happen. But the Post and other papers are losing subscribers already anyway, as more people get their news online.

I’m sure the Post has run and continues to run through various options and scenarios. But as new models for the news business are discussed, maybe its worth giving more consideration to the fact that there might be quite a few people who are online news consumers most of the time, yet who would still be willing to pay to have the option of sitting around with the old school paper on not just Sunday but Saturday as well.

Readers (and PR people) deserve better

If a news outlet is going to run a story that includes comments about an organization, shouldn’t the reporter contact the organization to get their side of the story and to–at the very least–make sure that what’s been said is accurate? And shouldn’t an editor be making sure this is happening so that readers get the full story? It’s Journalism 101 to me, but I’ve been running into issues along these lines a good bit lately, including one today.

The Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana ran a story that mentions ABCTE, the non-profit I do the PR for, and the article contains this quote about our program from someone in the education field there:

“It’s a test that measures minimum competency in subject areas, that is accepted in nine other states. I think it’s a slap in the face to teachers because there’s no demonstration of pedagogy and it’s a quick fix, granting license on spot.”

The quote is filled with inaccuracies and this could have been avoided had the reporter called us. Contrary to what’s stated above, ABCTE exams test for more than “minimum competency” and ABCTE actually does cover pedagogy and tests for it in the Professional Teaching Knowledge exam, which all candidates must pass before earning their certification. The program takes the average candidate 8 to 10 months to complete. It is quite rigorous. I won’t get any further into these details on the program here (anyone interested can read this blog post) because I want to get back to my main point:

All it would have taken was a phone call from the reporter and this story could have given readers a much more complete picture. And then an editor should have been asking the right questions before moving this story forward. Repairing the damage caused by misinformation can take a great deal of time and it’s unlikely you’ll reach everyone who read the initial story.

I realize that the newspaper industry is facing tough financial times and that many don’t have the staff they once did–they’re looking to get the work done by fewer people and that doesn’t always lead to the best results. But not doing the fundamental things required to make sure you give your readers an accurate, well-rounded story isn’t likely to lead to a brighter future. Pick up the phone. Send an email. Make every effort to get the story right. Readers should, if nothing else, be able to trust that a news organization has done that.