Lock Down: The Democrat-Gazette Takes Free News Off the Web in Northwest Arkansas

It had to happen sometime.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette announced Sunday that, starting Aug. 5, its northwest Arkansas newspaper edition will no longer offer free access to print edition stories on the Web. Like content on the state edition of the paper at ArkansasOnline.com, NWANews.com will be accessible to paying subscribers only.

Publisher Walter Hussman, who’s been praised by many in the ailing daily newspaper industry for sticking to his guns when it comes to charging for online content, is once again putting his money where his mouth is. Until now, NWANews.com offered free access to fight its regional competitor, The Morning News’ NWAonline.net, which is free as well. But competitive concerns have been overwhelmed by the fundamentals of a dicey business environment, Hussman said.

NWAnews.com has remained free out of competitive concerns in Northwest Arkansas, but challenging economic conditions across the nation have required companies to examine more closely all aspects of business and newspapers are no different, Hussman said.

Even with most online readers being print edition subscribers, Hussman said he’s seen some evidence of customers canceling their print subscriptions because they could get the information online for free.

Some content will remain free, however. The Democrat-Gazette says that includes “a variety of interactive features such as blogs, polls, breaking news alerts, original videos and others.” “Blogs” includes a Razorbacks blog (but does not include newspaper content on WholeHogSports.com).

“There’s going to be a lot of information we want to make available to them that we hope will keep them coming back again and again,” said Mat Costa, the online director of NWAnews.com. “Our goal at the end of the day is for visitors to have a very different experience on the Web site than what they do when they read the newspaper.”

That strategy, of course, mirrors the strategy with the state edition at ArkansasOnline.com, where nonsubscribers can access news from the Associated Press (now a commodity on the Web); Focus, a third-party Flickr-like site that hosts DG staff and user-submitted photos; video features; and directories for real estate, jobs, restaurants and events.

What does this mean for competitors and readers? More, after the jump.

Obviously, the DG’s lock down can’t hurt The Morning News, the Stephens Media-owned newspaper that just this week upset the DG to win first place among larger daily newspapers in general excellence at the Arkansas Press Association awards. Its NWAOnline.net remains free to all comers (although it charges for a digital replica of its print edition). Local TV stations that offer free news online and niche players like us at ArkansasBusiness.com won’t be complaining, either.

What does this mean for readers? Apparently, not much because, according to Hussman, most of the site’s online readers are already print subscribers. As for the freeloaders who poached state edition content from the free northwest site, they will either convert to subscriptions or go away forever, which probably matters little when your stated goal is to preserve the print edition.

And what does it mean for the Web site? Well, you can kiss some of those inbound links goodbye. Bloggers and other Web sites will be loathe to send their readers to locked-down content, which in turn means more online irrelevance for DG news stories and opinion columns.

The DG will try to compensate by adding those previously mentioned “interactive features.” Those features might be able to compete with offerings from others — like corporate-owned TV stations still striving to build hyperlocal Web portals. Except, unlike the DG, their daily news will be free.


The Razorbloggers consider Hussman’s move in the context of its sports coverage, and say they’ll have to rethinking its informal policy of not linking to locked down content. And in that vein, the Arkansas Expats wonder whether “Wally Watch” is endangered.

The Fayetteville Flyer says Hussman’s strategy doesn’t address the question of who to survive once the presses stop running. Also: Did Hussman just tell “current and potential advertisers that there’s no value in placing ads on [his] website?” Yep. I think he did.

Max Brantley notes the change, says it won’t rock his world much.


Jon Schleuss, a former contributor to The Fayetteville Flyer, named new editor of NWANews.com.


New York Times Considers Charging $5 Web Access Fee – Bloomberg

Would You Pay $5 A Month to Read the New York Times Online? – Gawker


13 Responses

  1. This is terribly disapppointing. How many of us consistently link to the DemGaz content from NWA simply becuase it could be shared. I kept hoping the main website would take the hint and realize that if you business model revolves around content that if you make it easier to share that content on the web the more visibility you gain.

    Another example of pre-social-media archaic thinking. Too bad.

    @Tsudo on Twitter

  2. […] newspaper’s Northwest Arkansas site) will officially be on lockdown. The inimitable Lance Turner offers his analysis here. Choice cut: And what does it mean for the Web site? Well, you can kiss some of those inbound links […]

  3. Tsudohnimh – so…pay for it.

    • Tyler that is too simplistic of a view. I do in fact subscribe to the DemGaz so I can view online content but this prevents me from sharing these articles via my blog or any of my social media sites.

      If I can’t share good content then the DemGaz suffers. Not me.

      • If you can’t share good content, they suffer? You sure about that?

        • Absolutely. How am I suffering? The DemGaz makes its money based on subscribers. The more people that see the content the more potential subscribers.

          Restrict access to your content and you are limiting the only product that you offer. It would be like Nike requiring a membership to enter a shoe store. It just doesn’t make sense.

          When bloggers and social medians stop sharing your content then less people care about what you produce.

          It’s sad for the users but its a tragedy for the DemGaz

        • This is an incredibly defensive, yet short-sighted view. How much longer will print be around? The cost of production and distribution is way too, high.

          A wiser move is to maximize unique assets online. Online references, and links back to DemGaz-owned content would be of tremendous value. They need as many (valued) visitors to the site as possible.

          Lack of eyeballs = lack of advertising revenue.

  4. […] appears on KTHV, Arkansas Week, radio appearances on The Buzz 103.7 and his eponymous blog, offers a perspective on the Arkansas Democrat Gazette’s decision to begin charging for Web content on is northwest […]

  5. It seems to me that this is very bad news for the reporters, columnists and photographers who generate the paper’s content. Their work will be completely invisible to the larger world outside the walled garden of the ADG web properties. If I were an ADG reporter, I’d quietly start a placeholder blog as an online archive of all my best work, to make it visible to search engines and future employers.

  6. […] You can read the full article here. But read it fast. It’ll soon disappear behind said “pay wall.” […]

  7. […] Lock Down: The Democrat-Gazette Takes Free News Off the Web in Northwest Arkansas […]

  8. Give something away and it has no value. American newspapers and their online editions have told the world through this free-online business model that their products have no value. Why buy the local newspaper if I can get it online for free?
    The fix isn’t just in charging for the content, but in greatly improving the content in both the electronic and print forums. Make your content worth something of value to local readers and local readers will want to buy it. In turn, make your media product more valuable to readers and advertisers will follow.
    Publishers ought to demand excellence from their reporters and then (sit down for this!) pay handsomely for it. I’m not talking a few cents or a few bucks an hour more, I’m thinking at least 100% more.
    The whole WalMart mentality here in America has created an idea that if something is good you pay for it, but if it’s cheap or free it’s better. That’s not right. Value naturally follows quality.

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