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Cincinnati TV station WCPO has invented a novel way to convince potential viewers (and subscribers) to pay money to get behind the station’s online paywall: simply tell people to cancel their newspaper subscriptions.
WCPO—the city’s ABC affiliate—has started a #dropthepaper Twitter hashtag, and the move has riled the Cincinnati Enquirer’s journalists and some of the city’s residents.
The campaign seems to have started Monday when Mike Canan, the editor of WCPO.com, tweeted this.
Here is the pitch: WCPO—apparently the first TV station in the country to build a paywall on its website—is offering a deal for $10 (for the first year) that includes access to the website’s Insider original reporting, a premium digital subscription to the Washington Post, and discounts to local businesses and restaurants. As this ad campaign explains:
“We’re investing in great journalism to deliver on the topics and issues that matter to you. With more than 50 veteran reporters and freelance journalists, we are dedicated to bringing you exclusive access to in-depth stories you can’t get anywhere else.”
Fair enough, one supposes, because that’s business.
But what about the other side of the equation, where the website is asking people to stop giving business to perhaps its biggest news-gathering competitor? Clearly, a segment of employees who work or worked at the Cincinnati Enquirer didn’t take the ad campaign with especially good humor (by the way, with recent cuts and buyouts by the Gannett-owned Enquirer, some of its former employees now work and freelance at the TV station’s website).
And of course, there were the requisite jokes asking how the website will produce its news if the newspaper it supposedly takes news from is no longer around.
But as Canan wrote here, WCPO allocates 35 reporters to its website (“Most TV stations in a market of this size might have five to seven,” Canan wrote), and the site plans to post daily stories that focus on business, politics, entertainment, transportation, and education.
Though many of Ohio’s newspaper employees have expressed their disgust with the ad campaign, Nieman Lab likened it to an old-school Cincinnati newspaper war (disclosure: I used to work at the now-defunct Cincinnati Post—which was owned by the E.W. Scripps Company, which also happens to own WCPO).
“We are trying to speak to the local market. We are trying to present ourselves as a competitor, as an alternative,” Dave Peterson, WCPO’s general manager for digital, told Nieman Lab. “I know that the newspaper does see us as a competitor, and I know that newsmakers in town might see it that way, but the public here doesn’t see it that way.”
He continues: “But we’re not just targeting print newspaper subscribers—that’s a shrinking audience. We’re targeting all news consumers in town who might still consider the paper the news provider that is leading the conversation or is setting the agenda, but might want something else.”
Peterson also said WCPO had wanted to offer a deal that the Enquirer couldn’t make—a cheap price point for a TV station that doesn’t have to bear the cost of publishing and delivering a print project.
“We’re not attacking journalism, we’re attacking the business model,” Peterson said. “I hope that the Cincinnati Enquirer is around for a long time, and I hope that we’re able to go head to head with them on things for a long time.”
The Enquirer, thus far, has not responded to WCPO, though one employee said the paper’s upper management is aware of the #dropthepaper campaign.
Josh Katzowitz is a staff writer at the Daily Dot specializing in YouTube and boxing. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. A longtime sports writer, he's covered the NFL for CBSSports.com and boxing for Forbes. His work has been noted twice in the Best American Sports Writing book series.