Greeley Tribune, other Swift papers, erecting paywalls

Swift Communications newspapers in Colorado will soon ask online readers to pay for access to content. The Carson City, Nevada-based company, which owns a slew of publications in Colorado and is sometimes mocked for its “McMountain News” mass-production publishing style, has already started erecting paywalls at publications elsewhere and will likely begin charging customers here next year. Analysts are viewing the move with skepticism, pointing out that in the wake of a decision this past spring to suspend comment features at its sites, Swift might be betting on a short-term cash-raising strategy in a shifting media environment that rewards the long play.

The plan is a “break with convention,” Anthony Collebrusco wrote at the University of Colorado Boulder “Test Kitchen” news-media analysis site. He suggested the company seemed to be looking straight beyond the defining attributes of the internet– and doing so long past the time when the internet has demonstrated its dominance as a communications medium.

The company told Collebrusco that, if it decides to reintroduce reader comments, that material would appear behind the coming paywalls.

“I can’t help but wince at the notion that a whole family of publications will be abandoning user comments outright until some indeterminate point in the future. Part of the success of the Internet over traditional media is that it permits a level of discourse that was absent from the ‘top-down’ media of old, and this conversational character is built into the Internet’s DNA (pictures “speak” with text, text “speaks” with video, comments “speak” to stories, etc).”

The paywalls will also restrict the reach of Swift publications, effectively sealing off content from millions of web surfers around the world, who may not care to read daily news from the Greeley Tribune, for example, but who may well land on the site when seeking to read on specific topics or people Greeley Trib reporters happen to cover.

Collebrusco reports that content at Swift’s “resort newspapers,” the Vail Daily and Aspen Times, will likely remain free. Worth noting is the fact that Swift’s papers in those towns face competition from credible online news alternatives.

Based on prices already attached to Swift content elsewhere, Swift will charge readers of its Colorado sites something like $7.95 per month for access online and $14.20 per month for a print subscription and online access.

Swift based its decision to discontinue comments on internal reader surveys that suggested comment sections weren’t considered essential and that many readers never left comments. But, as Collebrusco points out, a recent Ad Age study cautioned that those kind of survey results do not take into account the fact that younger readers (the customers of the future) only come to content via the internet and have a much more enthusiastic view of the role of comments sections at news sites than do older readers.

Swift writes to readers at the bottom of the stories that appear at its sites here that it has received reader feedback after suspending comments and that it is “evaluating the options available for a different commenting system.

“One thing’s sure, the old system won’t return as it was.”

Swift publications in Colorado include the Aspen Philanthropist, Bargain Hunter, Eagle Valley Enterprise, Glenwood Springs Post Independent, Fort Collins Now, Grand Junction Free Press, Greeley Tribune, High Country Business Review, La Tribuna, La Tribuna – Western Division, Mountain House & Home, Mountain Weekly, NEXTnc, Snowmass Sun, Sky-Hi Daily News, Summit County Journal, Summit Daily News, The Aspen Times, The Citizen Telegram, The Fence Post – Rocky Mountain Edition, The Fence Post – Western Slope Edition, The Leadville Chronicle, The Valley Journal, Vail Daily, Vail Trail, Windsor Now.

[ Jabba the Hutt/McMountain News image: Don Sidle for TCI ]