Joyce Terhaar

From the Executive Editor: 'Change is hard,' irate reader says

Joyce Terhaar
Joyce Terhaar

This reader was angry. Now 34, he had read The Bee free online for years. And he had just discovered that – for frequent readers – it no longer was free.

Loyal reader, native Sacramentan, college educated, makes a good living. Before the Internet, that profile often resulted in a lifelong print subscription. But Tim Onderko grew up in an experimental era of almost everything free online, and he had access to printed copies of The Bee at work, so he said at some point he let his subscription lapse.

Onderko and I have emailed and talked since his initial response to The Bee's limit on free access to our online news. He's past his initial frustration, instead grappling with an issue many of us face in today's technological world: forced change in habits.

"For me, your adjustment to subscription based news is probably more about change," he wrote in his email. "And for many people, change is hard. Your business model had to adapt to the new challenges it faces and paid subscription is a big step in that direction."

Onderko told me he's figuring out how he's going to respond to the change, but "I'm not going to ignore The Bee. I can't. I want to stay in tune with what's going on in our world locally and at the state level."

Onderko spends $15 annually for a baseball app on his smartphone. Other than that, his reading habits have not cost money. He has other free sports apps, he reads the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post, he subscribes to some news and information services on Facebook, he reads Rough&Tumble, which aggregates California political and policy stories reported around the state, including those from The Bee. (Readers face the same limit on stories at even if they click on a story through aggregators or search engines.)

While he took advantage of free music and movies online when he was a teenager, his habits have changed and he now pays iTunes for music and Netflix for movies.

As a journalist who knows how expensive it is to provide investigative reporting, context and analysis, I've supported the growing industry move to limit free access and offer digital subscriptions for news. But I understand that change is hard. It's something we face every day in the newsroom from an entirely different perspective.

In the last few years journalists who spent their careers putting out a newspaper once a day now break news throughout the day, tweet, discuss issues with readers on Facebook, provide photo galleries and interactive graphics, clean and sort databases to provide readers easy and accurate access to data.

Many of you continue to tell me you can't start your day without the printed newspaper and a cup of coffee. It's a powerful habit that you enjoy.

Yet you also can read stories reported by The Bee on Yahoo or Google, on your laptop or tablet or on a smart phone. Increasingly, many of you do.

We continue to introduce new products so you can read The Bee in a way most convenient for you. To that end, we'll introduce an app at the beginning of the year that organizes our political and policy coverage, adds substantial new features, and notifies you of news developments. Stay tuned later this month for more information – and yes, expect to pay for it.

Early in the new year we'll introduce an iPad app that gives you the benefits of a newspaper – solid news judgment about the best stories – with the live nature of the Internet. This will be far different from The Bee's e-edition now available on tablets, and it will be part of our digital subscription package.

These new products will showcase coverage you can't find elsewhere because few newsrooms – digital or print – have the long-standing commitment to investigative journalism that we maintain. Stories we broke last summer that revealed state parks officials had hidden millions of dollars, even as they threatened to close parks and asked for more money, are an example of that reporting.

We're developing new products because even as many of you remain loyal to print, you're also spending even more time getting news as you develop digital habits.

The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism reported in October that people spend more time getting news on tablets and smartphones than they do playing games, using social media, reading books or watching movies.

Increasingly, more people own such devices. The pace at which people are buying tablets in the Sacramento region, for instance, is a fast one, growing from 16 percent of adults in February to 24 percent this fall, according to Scarborough research. Some forecast a doubling of such ownership by January because of Christmas gifts.

Those of you using tablets to read news still do so at home, primarily, in the mornings and evenings. We'll edit our iPad app so that those times of day feature new reports.

This means more change in our newsroom, but it's not something I lament. The Pew report found good news for journalists amid this change: Of consumers who now have a tablet, 43 percent say they are using it to get more news, not to just replace other news habits. That's good news not just for journalists but for a democratic society that benefits from being informed.