Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Useful Newspaper Experiment

Pensacola News Journal columnist Reginald Dogan confessed the other day that after moving here from somewhere else, he's had a come- to- Jesus realization that off-shore oil drilling is bad. Good for Reggie. Glad he woke up.

In the on-line version of the column, however, this was soon followed by comments from the usual collection of minimally-educated knuckle-draggers, who advance arguments like --
  • oil is good for you
  • oil corporations are just swell
  • oil technology is oh-so-terrific
  • fishes love oil rigs, so they must be good for us, too
  • Hey! I work on an oil rig; and
  • Mother Nature has bad taste, anyway, so what the heck.
The best that can be said for the New Journal's "In Your Voice" on-line comment board is that it usually takes two hands to type. So, as long the Neanderthals who inhabit the PNJ comments section keep vomiting their brain cramps through the Internet Tubes, they can't be loading their guns.

It's a good bet the one thing they are not is subscribers to the newspaper. Too few people are, which is why PNJ slims down the news so much these days. Fewer subscribers means less news; less news means fewer subscribers. It's a vicious circle that can't end well.

Today's print edition of the PNJ carries another column about this very conundrum. It's a canned piece by Gene Policinski describing one small part of the problem but offering no real solutions beyond charging for on-line access to the news. You can read Policinski's pedestrian piece just about anywhere Gannett Corp. is losing money.

There are other solutions, and to our mind better ones. But, what the heck -- maybe Policinski has a point. The News Journal should test it out.

Here's a useful experiment: Limit on-line commentating to Pensacola News Journal subscribers. Print subscribers can log on with their account number; on-line subscribers with their screen names, after paying by credit card, if they have one.

To be frank, this might, or might not, generate all that much revenue to ease the newspaper's financial crisis. But it sure would improve the image of Pensacola and its residents that the PNJ presents to the world.

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