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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Because you are cheap ... and because I have an expense account

Posted By on Wed, Sep 2, 2009 at 10:54 AM

... I bought myself a one-month subscription to the PG Plus.

Some early thoughts. 

-- As of just before lunchtime today, the site had nearly 430 members, a little less than 100 of whom were online at the same time I was. Not surprisingly, many of them are P-G staffers. 

-- Speaking of which, there are your basic social media functions, like adding people as friends. P-G publisher J.R. Block is without friends at the moment -- it's lonely at the top, as I know all too well. In fact, I've already sent a friend request to P-G executive editor David Shribman. If he snubs me, it may result in the first PG+ flamewar.  

-- Also, any member can apparently start his or her on-site blog. I got a feeling that this is going to be the first feature the P-G thinks about disabling. At this point, if you need a newspaper's help setting up a blog ... maybe you shouldn't be blogging at all. 

--  Guess what? PG Plus has already given Jack Kelly a whole new platform to be a complete tool. Here's one of his very earliest PG+ posts:

Do to Grandma what Teddy did to Mary Jo Kopechne. 

Democrats are now saying we should pass Obamacare as a memorial to the late Sen. Kennedy.

Haha. What a card.

-- One feature is Rob Rogers offering up early drafts of cartoons, and giving a little backstory to them. For example, for today's cartoon -- a whimsical look at our Boy Mayor learning about new iPhone applications, Rogers says the following:

Did you know there's no Donkey Kong application for the iPhone? The only reason I know that is that while working on this sketch for tomorrow's Brewed On Grant, I originally had the Boy Mayor playing Donkey Kong. Because I'm a serious journalist, I researched it and found "there is no app for that." I changed it to Frogger. There's an app for that.

-- Steelers stuff is going to be a big draw. Here's Ed Bouchette on the back story of lineman Willie Colon, who stands to become a restricted free agent later this year:

[T]he Steelers are rolling the dice on Colon, even if they can protect him as a RFA next March. Colon is only 26. Good young tackles are hard to find and, well, if they are the best right tackle in the league, they will be hard to keep once that contract expires ...

I’m sure Colon’s agent will have something to say about all this next week, and when he does, remember, you read it here first.

-- Multimedia stuff: There's a feature called "A Day in the Life," which seems to be a slide-show with voiceovers. The current sample was a profile of Pat Thetic, of Anti-Flag. P-G pop music dude Scott Mervis has a video segment on upcoming releases due at Paul's CDs. Gene Collier is drolly riffing on sports news.

-- Note to Chris Briem: There are indeed gardening tips to be had on site here: "How does one plant over 1000 bulbs a season and not break their back?"

It's gonna cost you to find out, pally. But I'll give you a hint: It involves the use of a "bulb augur."

-- As I type this, I'm watching Jack Kelly and Reg Henry argue the merits of healthcare reform in a live chat format. And guess what? Jack's against government taking any sort of role. Kelly is apparently having some sort of techincal problem that prevents him from posting very rapidly ... I'm guessing it's hard to run a T1 line into a lead-lined bunker. So there's a LOT of dead air here. While the format is a free-for-all that allows other members to jump in to the debate, so far only one person has done so. 

So what do I make of the site? It's too early to tell, but I'd say that so far, it's DEFINITELY been worth $3.99 of my publisher's money. The response from elsewhere in the blogosphere, where of course everyone is their OWN publisher, has ranged from ambivalent to underwhelmed.

My own guess is that the P-G faces a challenge here. They do plenty of stuff on the existing (free) web site, and the successful features -- like the sports blogs -- already have a thriving community. The paper pledged not to move any of that behind the paywall, which is quite generous. But that creates a problem, because at least so far, the stuff behind the paywall doesn't seem consistently better than the stuff we're getting for free. 

Finally, a note regarding my previous blog post about PG-Plus. I had a few P-G folks ask me why I would threaten to cancel my print subscription because of the new online offerings. After all, they pointed out, P-G+ isn't taking anything away from the print edition or the Web: It's all extra stuff. So why shouldn't I expect to pay an extra price? 

There's no good rational answer to that question. On the other hand, there's no logical answer to THIS question either: Why the hell was I paying for the print edition, when I could get all the same stuff online for free?

Most people I know don't have subscriptions, because the same stuff is available for free online. Looked at from within their narrow self-interest, that's a smart economic decision. But I don't subscribe to the print edition for purely economic reasons. I did it because I wanted to support daily journalism in Pittsburgh. I've continued to subscribe regardless of how the paper has shrunk, and despite the departure of some of its staff. (And despite the retention of some others.) So it's hard not to feel a bit let down now, when I'm being told to cough up more money like all those online-only freeloaders.

I understand the business reasons for charging extra for this stuff. I understand the economic conditions facing the industry -- I mean, I work in it. But then why shouldn't I make a business decision of my own, and pay for the stuff I can't get otherwise (PG+), while getting the rest of it for free online? Like I said, I work in the industry too. I only have so much money to spend on my media jones.

But I might change my mind. Especially if Shribman responds to my friend request.

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