The Oakland Press in Oakland County, Michigan needs a new business model, editor Glenn Gilbert says.
The Press, part of the Journal Register company (that just hired Jim Brady), no longer has enough space in the print edition to print all the pieces it had been commissioning from freelancers, Gilbert told MJD yesterday. So the company is launching a community blogging initiative where writers will cover local news like planning commission and school board meetings for more or less free (though the bloggers will be able to sell ads on their blogs and may receive traffic incentives). The best stuff will be reverse-published in the paper for $25, plus an additional $15 if the blog included a print-worthy photo.
And yes, this means the Press will use fewer “regular” freelancers. “We’re trying to get away from [using them],” Gilbert said.
This has upset some of the freelancers, one of whom tipped us off and called the scheme “a new low for the faltering newspaper industry.”
It should be noted that Press freelancers were being paid $50 per story and $25 per photo, hardly a princely sum even outside Detroit. However, when you take into account the fact that now a story is not guaranteed to earn any money, it’s easy to see why people are upset.
The paper is pretty much in the spaghetti-throwing phase right now, Gilbert said. “We’re kind of inventing this…I don’t know what we’re gonna get.” He said he didn’t want the paper’s current freelancers to feel obligated to become bloggers: “I don’t want to insult a freelancer and ask them to take a pay cut, and I don’t want them to feel I expect them to do this.” But it is true that he hopes the bloggers who join the program will cover the same sorts of stories the freelancers did.
The paper is offering free training to any interested bloggers and will help the would-be scribes set up ads. “For this model to work there has to be a revenue stream for the blogger,” Gilbert said. “I think there needs to be a ad revenue stream.”