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.
— Mike Canan (@Mike_Canan) March 21, 2016
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).
— Ben Goldschmidt (@b_gschmidt) March 22, 2016
This has to be the crassest campaign I have ever seen in news media. Sorry for my ex-colleagues who now work there https://t.co/VWzlFLgfD2
— Cheryl Vari (@cherylvari) March 22, 2016
I've never gotten into the BS rivalry that exists b/t some local papers & TV. Then I saw the #dropthepaper campaign. I take that personally.
— Amber Hunt (@ReporterAmber) March 23, 2016
All I have to say: I have something in the works. Don't #dropthepaper or you'll miss it. And then you'll cry, and I don't want you to cry.
— Amber Hunt (@ReporterAmber) March 23, 2016
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.
If you #dropthepaper, I will still write the story. TV will try to follow me and pretend they found it. You know better. Get the original.
— John Russell (@JohnRussell99) March 23, 2016
Trying to figure out how WCPO — which gets a lot of its info from social media, Enquirer and wire services — can charge? #dropthepaper
— Northern Kentucky (@NKYNewsNetwork) March 24, 2016
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.