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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: After the paywall rises, Tribune commenters may migrate to the Missourian

By Tom Warhover
November 19, 2010 | 9:33 a.m. CST

Dear Reader,

My, what a stir.

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The Columbia Daily Tribune announced that it would begin charging for regular access to its online content. Frequent and not-so-frequent commenters promised that they would not pay the $8 monthly fee ($1 for print subscribers) for the privilege.

The Trib tribe pledged to defect to the Missourian, where online comments and content are still free.

“Hey Amy! Hope all is well you and yours!” Kenny Edwards wrote Wednesday.

“Hey Kenny, I was wondering if that was you or someone with the same name. We're good. Baby #4 is coming in January!! We are so excited!”

The exchanges are personal, and public. Old acquaintances renewed, now with actual names rather than “handles” like "Swingline" or “h4x354x0r.” There is a real, albeit digital, community here.

So, welcome to all you community observers, opinion makers and news watchdogs.

On Tuesday, there were 37 comments on ColumbiaMissourian.com. On Wednesday, after the Tribune announcement, 122.  That’s without the pre-election flood of exchanges on Proposition B, the dog breeder debate.

As stories by the Tribune and the Missourian noted, there’s a trend out there among newspapers to charge for online content. It’s hardly the dominant model. But there’s a head of steam building.

The logic is pretty simple: Original content isn’t cheap to produce, online advertising doesn’t support the costs, and so the next choice is to charge content consumers.

In print-only days, subscriptions never came close to paying for the cost of a newspaper but were always a significant source. On the revenue side, the industry rule of thumb was 20 percent from print sales and 80 percent from advertising.

Now the Tribune and others are looking for a new revenue mix.

I wish them well.  There need to be new ways to support journalism. I have doubts as to whether, in the long run, the online subscription models (there are many, not just one) will be effective.

Fortunately for the Missourian, I don’t make the calls when it comes to money issues.

General Manager Dan Potter says there are no immediate plans for any kind of paywall for ColumbiaMissourian.com.

That leaves us, dear reader, with an interesting couple of petri dishes here. Will the Missourian actually get a significant increase in online traffic, and can it sustain that readership? After their initial ire, will Tribune readers and commenters stay put and subscribe to see more than 10 articles a month?

It will be an interesting couple of months; the Tribune’s new policy goes into effect Dec. 1.

Will the nature of the conversations change? Many people have told me Missourian comments tend to be more civil in tone.

As you know, Missourian policy requires commenters to use their real names. Whether that accounts for less name-calling is debatable, but it’s another thing that won’t change anytime soon.

(The return to naming names, by the way, is another mini-trend, by the way; it’s been standard at the Missourian for years.)

Those who try hard enough will be able to get away with an alias (aka fake name). But I've found other commenters are pretty good about policing themselves. Then there are the times when the too-good-to-be-true names really are true -- Tina Fey, the actress, has nothing on our own Tina Fey, Missourian commenter.

The rest of the rules for commenting are simple:

Don’t say anything you wouldn’t say or do in front of your mother.

So you can’t personally attack someone else.

Or personally attack a race, creed or religion. Or cuss. You can’t put up illegal material (porn, for instance) or sell your latest, greatest business venture.

That’s it.

Everything else is fair game.

Thursday morning, city editor John Schneller said this to reporters: People will stay with ColumbiaMissourian.com only so long as there is quality content – articles, photos, graphics, multimedia – to comment on.

Seems like a pretty good standard to me.

Tom