Union-Tribune Now Requires Digital Subscription

To read more than 15 articles a month, U-T San Diego now requires nonsubscribers to purchase a digital subscription

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Getty Images
    The San Diego Union-Tribune on the newsstand before the Manchester purchase.

    The largest print newspaper in San Diego launched a paywall Thursday, charging non-subscribers for full access to its material on its website.

    It's the most recent change for the San Diego Union-Tribune, which recently rebranded itself as “U-T San Diego” under the ownership of real-estate developer “Papa” Doug Manchester.

    Under the new paywall, nonsubscribers will have access to 15 articles a month without charge. Some features like the classifieds, Spanish-language coverage and photo galleries will be unlimited.

    If a user wishes to read more than 15 articles a month, they will need to pay a digital subscription.

    The costs are bundled and range from $3.49 a week for the Sunday paper and unlimited digital access to $5.99 a week for seven days of the print version along with unlimited digital access.

    The average annual rate will be $180 - $290 depending on your subscription choice.

    “We believe the content we provide from our great journalists is something people are willing to pay for,” President and COO Mike Hodges told reporter Tanya Mannes in an article posted on the U-T website announcing the change.

    The change was necessary to develop new revenue streams according to Hodges.

    As Mannes explained in response to negative comments on her online article, "Maybe once people pay each week - almost as an investment in this company's future - they'll feel they have a stake in our success. And when they complain, they can complain not as an online freeloader but as a 'subscriber.'"  

    Manchester told our partners the VoiceofSanDiego that he paid "above" $110 million for the paper in the sale announced in November 2011.

    Changes he and U-T CEO John Lynch have suggested or brought to the news organization have been parodied or criticized.

    Two weeks ago, NYTimes writer David Carr compared the newspaper to a brochure for the business interests of Manchester and Lynch.

    Then there was the controversy that stirred when longtime sports columnist Tim Sullivan openly discussed his departure from the paper suggesting that it may have been because of his questioning the direction of management.

    And, most recently, the newspaper's attempt at morning television with its webstream U-T TV. Its viewers created a Twitter hashtag (not to promote the show but to collect complaints) and San Diego's weekly CityBeat published a scathing commentary on the project.

    The Union-Tribune is not the first newspaper to go in this direction. The New York Times launched its online subscription in March 2011. The Los Angeles Times initiated its paywall several months ago.

    The U-T San DIego announcement is a business decision and a necessary one at that according to Dean Nelson, Ph. D., founder and director of the media program at Point Loma Nazarene University.

    “I don’t think it’s the end of the world,” Nelson said. “It’s slowly in the direction it’s got to go.”

    The idea that everything should be free is just not a sustainable one, he added.

    “It’s no different than if you’re standing in line at Starbucks and looking at a hard copy of the NY Times while waiting for your coffee. You’re getting that information for free,” Nelson explains. “To actually open the paper and get into the contents, then the newspaper is reasonable to expect you to pay for it.”

    However, the idea of paying for the U-T's articles online was unpopular among NBCSanDiego's Facebook followers.

    "I can go to the local TV stations for instant news, or even to Google News for all the national stories--all for free," posted Emily Chamberlain Kattawar who works at SDSU. "If they think their writing is so superior, they should really take a step back and look at what they are putting out there."

    In response to those who believe the level of reporting at the paper has suffered under budget cuts and changes in ownership, Nelson believes this new business model will settle the debate.

    "If they put out a crappy product, then people won’t pay for it," he said. "I personally think it’s the UT saying 'We think we’re going to do a good enough job that people will pay for it.'"

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