RVA Media Innovator No. 2: Richmond Times-Dispatch Keeps it Fresh

Part two in our series on RVA Media Innovators looks at the local paper, The Richmond Times-Dispatch

Like most news organizations, the 108-year-old paper continues to innovate to lure digital natives while providing services expected by traditional readers. 

I’m somewhere in the middle.

As a news junkie, I’m the reader who still appreciates the feel and smell of newsprint. I’ve even paid the $5 fee to forward my subscription to vacation on the Outer Banks for my upcoming vacation. (I was impressed with that service, but I had to call customer service as I couldn’t make that change online.) 

I’ve downloaded my iPad app for Times-Dispatch, tinkered with it, but I still prefer the print version. However, kudos to the Times-Dispatch for experimenting with the new format. Who knows? In five years, I might have a hologram version digitally delivered to the touch screen in my car, but for now the broadsheet serves me well.

Changing the perception of what should be free

News isn’t free.

Media outlets need to pay their writers, photographers, designers, editors and techies.

Many Americans – especially those gadget-savvy millennials – want free content or at least advertising-subsidized content. The reality is most outlets can’t afford to make everything free. The model seems to be give readers or viewers a taste and get them hooked.

Tom Silvestri, who leads Media General’s Richmond Media Group, covered how Richmond’s largest paper is facing this issue in a July 10, 2010, commentary piece.

Instead of applying a “tollbooth on all content highways,” The Times-Dispatch is opting to “selectively charge for unusual content or special packages” of news and information.

Partnering with Google

The Times-Dispatch was one the country’s first papers to partner with Google's One Pass system, and the Richmond paper’s first paid project – at $1.99 per month or $19.99 a year – is connected to the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

Silvestri left the door open for TimesDispatch.com to eventually charge a subscription or paywall for all content – not just premium information.

Reader feedback

One reader posted a comment to Silvestri’s column using the paper’s new Facebook comment feature (another example of innovation). The reader wrote, “I continue as a loyal reader of the real paper, as I have since 1972, and I check your Internet site a half dozen times a day. But, I ain’t about to pay.”

Ironically, this reader said he has 229 apps on his iPad of which he said 99 percent are “freebies.” 

Jonathan Rhudy is a news junkie who doesn’t mind paying for online news. But he loves a good coupon, and you can get great ones in your Sunday Richmond Times-Dispatch.