published Sunday, April 28th, 2013

Gerber: Newspaper to charge for most online content

It would be nice if, instead of paying for a can of Coke, the Coca-Cola Co. simply gave it away for free.

Who wouldn’t take a Coke, Sprite, or heck, even a Tab, for free?

But the company isn’t going to spend money paying people to produce their drinks just to hand them out free of charge.

But that’s just what the newspaper industry has done for most of the last decade. The Chattanooga Times Free Press and numerous other newspapers have essentially given away for free the product we create from scratch every day. While thousands of people buy the paper every day, or pay to have it delivered to their homes, many read it free of charge at

That will soon change. The newspaper will start charging non-subscribers to read the newspaper online — a business model known as a digital paywall.

If you subscribe to the print edition, you’ll have unlimited free access to the online paper on the days you get the print edition. And even if you are not a subscriber, you’ll still be able, without paying, to read stories in the “Latest News” section and articles by The Associated Press and watch videos. And, free of charge, you’ll also be able to read several stories a month outside of those limitations, but much of the newspaper’s content will be behind the paywall.

This newspaper has a larger newsroom than most papers our size. We have more reporters and photographers covering our community every day than even some newspapers with greater circulation and serving larger markets. Our printed newspaper is thicker than most of our peers, and we have a far higher ratio of stories to advertisements (at least 50 percent news content, which is high by industry standards these days).

But covering news every day in a 21-county area spread across three states is expensive. It takes a team of reporters, photographers, editors, designers, web producers and others running seven days a week. The newsroom is staffed from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m.

How many other businesses that spend significant amounts of money producing a product would turn around and offer it up for free? Would Chattanooga Bakery give away its MoonPies? Nah. Would Krystal give away its little burgers? No way.

Yet despite the cost of producing news, newspapers in the 1990s — when the Internet was just cranking up — started giving away their stories and photos and, later, videos online. They saw the Web as a way to better compete with television and inform readers quickly. It was suddenly possible to break news all day long, rather than just once a day.

Newspaper companies saw the possibilities, but they failed to see the sword’s double edge. Few were farsighted enough to consider that the Web would, for many readers, become the primary source of consuming news. What started out as free remained that way, even when newspapers had to spend money to provide that product.

Now, many daily newspapers are following the lead of large papers such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, both of which have paywalls. The Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle are the latest big-city newspapers to add a paywall, both putting one up this summer.

All of Tennessee’s other metro daily newspapers are behind a paywall or have plans to do so.

When the Times Free Press launched its website in the early 2000s, the site was only accessible to paid subscribers and featured a handful of section pages and links. By 2005, we starting making portions of it free. For the last several years, the standard online edition has been totally free.

Today, the Times Free Press website has 9 million page views a month, which dwarfs our local online competitors.

Those numbers show we are providing valuable content that no one else in Chattanooga is offering; we have more stories, more in-depth pieces, more variety and more credibility. In short, the Times Free Press is the No. 1 place that people in our area go for news, whether it’s the Web or our printed newspaper.

If you want to know about the building collapse in Bangladesh, sure, you can Google that and read all about it. But you’ll have to come to the newspaper if you want to know as much as possible about the gunfight at a TVA nuclear plant, or whether that rundown barge will ever be removed from the Tennessee River downtown, or why Chattanooga’s most expensive mansion is on the auction block, or how the Shallowford Road prostitution bust unfolded (all stories published in recent weeks).

And you’ll have to read the paper for details on the Highway 27 construction, what the National Cornbread Festival in South Pittsburg is offering or the results of the baseball game between Silverdale Baptist and Boyd-Buchanan.

A staff of journalists works hard every day to make sure the newspaper is jammed with information about local government, schools, crime, sports and other stuff that’s just plain interesting. Each day, there is information in the Times Free Press that you won’t find anywhere else, that helps our readers’ lives, keeps an eye on our government officials, keeps up with our sports teams and keeps us informed.

We believe that’s a valuable product, one we should not give away for free. No one would expect us to just hand out the printed newspaper without getting paid for it; the same is true for the content we put on the Internet.

Alison Gerber is the managing editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Reach her at

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
aae1049 said...

I will gladly pay for this product, if you will fire the StreetChatt people.

Seriously, the e edition is the best product. No paper in your driveway, and the full edition.

April 28, 2013 at 12:24 a.m.
nucanuck said...

I fully understand why you would construct a paywall and I'm sure you know that you will lose some percentage of your readers. Financial Sense Online was part of my daily life for ten years until they put up a partial paywall. Now I seldom click on their site. So far I have been able to find equal or better material elsewhere.

I like checking up on my hometown, but I wonder if I will want to pay to write a comment on your editorial page. I seriously doubt it. My guess is that the CTFP will fade from my life rather quickly.

April 28, 2013 at 1:42 a.m.
magenta said...

nucanuck said... but I wonder if I will want to pay to write a comment on your editorial page

Maybe this is a sly way to identify anonymous commenters and control comments? If a reader has to pay to comment won't they have to use a debit or credit card which will reveal their identity?

April 28, 2013 at 9:45 a.m.
rumrunr said...

as an iowan of tennessee origin, i enjoy my time with the times-freepree. however, not enough to have to jump thru hoops to get it. as nacanuck said, i think it will slowly fade from my day. to bad, but it is what it is.

April 28, 2013 at 1:59 p.m.
Silverengine3 said...

I remember when you had to pay to read the times free press online and I just stopped looking at it online. I will not pay to read online material. Actually I believe that is when some other local online papers became more popular. I will still read and sometimes buy a printed version of the paper though. Lots of online publications have figured out how to make money and remain free through advertising.

April 28, 2013 at 4:53 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

This will be a positive for the Chattanoogan, even though much of their content is submitted material. Their sports section is making strides especially. Goodbye to reader comments, there just won't be enough of them to bother looking.

April 28, 2013 at 5:03 p.m.

Since the 1500's when Christian Missionaries began spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the printed word, held in-hand, has been a valued treasure. The Western Hemisphere would now be able to actually physically feel the beauty of printing press Words of Life (Jesus Christ). The major reason for the spread of the printing press to our world can be summed up in one word, Christianity.

Now, that beauty can be experienced by people everywhere, curling up with an informative newsprint newspaper or book to be informed and entertained. There's just something about it that says 'Americana'!

Quote from the Library of Congress: "The Library of Congress and the Advertising Council have launched a national public service advertising. A series of public service announcements, aimed to reach children in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades and their parents, focus on engaging children in all forms of literacy, whether it is reading a book or magazine, studying history, visiting a museum or simply using their imagination." {Or, reading a newsprint newspaper!}

The Chattanooga Times Free Press newsprint edition rivals the value of diamonds and gold. And, the truth is, even much more valuable because of the mind/spirit benefits that come from 'cozying up' with a vast containment of life changing information. Please, 'get over investing your precious .50 cents'!


April 28, 2013 at 6:37 p.m.
rumrunr said...

orr... if that .50 means having to read your messed up views,that is a waste of money. no thanks

April 28, 2013 at 8:45 p.m.
nucanuck said...

magenta, we are not anonymous to the CTFP, they have our names ad emails.

I also suspect that many people log-in just to read the comments more so than the editorials which are often not so stimulating. If the paper loses commenters, they may also lose a lot of click volume. I suspect that the number of lurkers who like the colorful comments is large.

Whatever it is, the CTFP will figure it out.

April 28, 2013 at 9:25 p.m.
Hunter_Bluff said...

Having lived in the People's Republic of East Tennessee for the past 20 years (set your watch 100 years!) I'm happy with the mix of views I see in the TFP. I may not agree with about half of them but I'm thankful for DIVERSITY of opinions and not just the group think of dittoheads.

April 28, 2013 at 9:37 p.m.
choptalker said...

Sorry to see, but nicely explained. It says on the day you get the paper, so I guess that means if we have a weekend subscription, we can only get it online Saturday and Sunday.

Other local websites that "make money" don't have to pay a big staff to write stories. One person can rewrite TFP stories and post press releases.

April 29, 2013 at 10:17 a.m.
freerockcity said...

When even well-read poli-bloggers like Ben Schwartz are joking about the fact that they've used up all their NYT free articles on the 28th (before the end) of the month... because not even he's a subscriber - and if NYT has already seen a serious dive in online readership due to their paywall, then are Chattanoogans in any number gonna pay for the limited website content and clunkiness of the online-TFP? Of course not. That's what ads are for. What a dumb effing move.

April 29, 2013 at 1:13 p.m.
aae1049 said...

TFP readers will change over to the pay model. Sure, there are some people that will not pay for the service. Most will, save the newspaper, CHARGE!

April 29, 2013 at 8:59 p.m.

Calling out to all Traitors! Do You know how many good hardworking families are employed by the Chattanooga Times Free Press? Probably the overwhelming majority of their paychecks support Chattanooga Hamilton County communities. It's people like You who cause local lay-offs. Have a heart! They offer a quality product and service with the price being more than right. They are not a charity. Get a grip! Support Local...another ! (exclamation point).


April 29, 2013 at 11:20 p.m.
gjuster said...

I don't get the paper because of the biased reporting - and the poor job the reporters do in asking questions instead of just printing what they are told. (See Hate Groups column several days ago) The editorials weren't worth it until Drew Johnson showed up. Not sure what I will do with paying for the paper and/or the website. But I understand that to stay in business, they have to turn a profit, and am not upset with their new plans. The newspaper industry is in serious trouble for several reasons. Perhaps the answer is for our city to operate it's own newspaper. After all, they are in the hotel, golf, entertainment, airplane maintenance, and cable business (EPB) already - what's one more blow against private enterprise.

May 1, 2013 at 7:15 a.m.
tcrashfx said...

I've not made a decision on this issue, yet. How does the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Drudge Report, the New York Times, the Miami Herald, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and, among many other media outlets, still exist while not charging folks to view their on-line newspaper (And, the Knoxville News Sentinel still allows comments on news articles!)

Could it be that the aforementioned media outlets, et al, are better at reporting the news and, therefore; encouraging more people to return to their site, thus increasing more advertising revenue?

May 1, 2013 at 9:42 a.m.
Stewwie said...


[I don't get the paper because of the biased reporting - and the poor job the reporters do in asking questions instead of just printing what they are told. (See Hate Groups column several days ago).]

The coverage is pretty good with the number of folks on assignment, but I have been disappointed in a perceived center-left bias in the articles.

[The editorials weren't worth it until Drew Johnson showed up.]

Drew Johnson alone is the reason several folks have either canceled their subscriptions or are planning to. He has been a bad hire from the start for the right side of the editorials. Think about it...the majority of the TFP circulation region is socially and economically conservative. Drew is not socially conservative at all and his economic views are a bit extreme at times. It is foolish for the TFP to no longer have an editor that reflects the majority of its readers' views.

[Not sure what I will do with paying for the paper and/or the website. But I understand that to stay in business, they have to turn a profit, and am not upset with their new plans.]

It's fair that the TFP is putting an end to the free views. But maybe they should have given two options to the viewing with a lot of ads, or a paid subscription to see minimal ads (similar to what we see now).

May 1, 2013 at 1:52 p.m.
AndrewLohr said...

What kind of charge? I'd probably pay $20 a year for unlimited views, or maybe some large though limited number. You might ask readers what we'd pay and what we'd insist on getting (and might explain something of your cost considerations?)

At the New York Times I take what they give me, 10 views a month.

Free with lotta ads is a good idea.

May 2, 2013 at 1:05 a.m.
magenta said...

Ms. Gerber, don't listen to these people. They want to control free speech by having only their opinions heard. If you listen to them the Chattanooga Times/Free Press will be destroyed.

May 2, 2013 at 2:17 a.m.
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