A Letter to American Spring from Eric Dundon on ‘The Paywall Argument’

Below is letter from Eric Dundon, content manager at the Lake Sun Leader.  It is in response to ‘The Paywall Argument’.  In it, Mr. Dundon provides us information regarding the new web platform.  With his permission, it is reprinted here.

You will also find the follow up and ongoing correspondence below.  It is regarding the decision of the Lake Sun Leader to publish ‘The Paywall Argument’, or not.

If you would like to see ‘The Paywall Argument’ appear in the Lake Sun, please let Eric Dundon and Joyce Miller know. (joyce.miller@lakesunonline.com, eric.dundon@lakesunonline.com).

This post will be updated as this decision is considered.  Leave a comment here as well, if you would like to see ‘The Paywall Argument’ run in the Lake Sun.

Thanks for your support.

Paul

On Tue, Oct 2, 2012 at 1:35 PM, Eric Dundon <eric.dundon@lakesunonline.com> wrote:
Hi Mr. Ellison,

I thought I’d send you a quick note regarding your latest blog post (I had too many thoughts to tweet them all).
Firstly, thank you for that post. What many people do not realize is that for many of the changes the Lake Sun is experiencing, those decisions are made over our heads. We’re not crazy about our new website now, but it’s what we’ve got and we’re trying our best to make it work.
As for our paywall system, we are working with Gatehouse to get aspects of it changed. We recognize that we have a different readership than many of Gatehouse’s other publications throughout the country, and we want more access to our readers. We know that a robust and engaged citizenry will drive up our numbers, and we’re not convinced that the current paywall system facilitates that.
Some of the changes we’re working towards include:
-Unrestricted access to obituaries, sports, entertainment, opinions and crime
-For other content, we want to increase the number of free views from 15 to 20 before the paywall kicks in.
I watched Joyce file the request for the changes. She filed a request Sept. 19 (the day after the new website launched) and again Sept. 24.
Her words today were, “Come hell or high water, it’ll change.” But, as you mentioned in your blog, at the end of the day, the Lake Sun is a business.
On a personal note, thank you for your kind words on my work. The design house concept is frustrating to me and there will no doubt be challenges and things I don’t like, but I’m trying to remain open-minded about the whole thing.
We know that you don’t always agree with how we handle certain things, but we appreciate your criticism nonetheless.

Thanks,

Eric Dundon
Lake Sun editorial content manager
On Oct 2, 2012, at 9:09 PM, Paul Ellison wrote:

Eric,

Thanks for your email.  I can’t help but be reminded of a somewhat similar conversation with Deanna earlier this year.  In it, I told her that my criticisms are a reflection of your value, the Lake Sun’s value, to us.  As community members, we have an expectation of truth when possible, honesty when not.  We expect you to ask real questions, hard questions.  We have high expectations.

The lofty standards we expect met served as motivation for many who enter the field of journalism. We expect integrity.  We expect truth.  We expect you to inform us, to investigate.

When that baseline criteria is subject, as they now are, to advertisers and corporate ownership, we all suffer.

I understand full well that you and the other members of the Lake Sun staff are only doing your jobs.  You keep us well informed of local issues.  The Lake Sun and the work you do are the lifeline we rely on.  We all know that the public is starting to tune out.  While much of that has to do with cable and national network ‘news organizations’ and non-stop talk of all things political, it eventually comes home.

We hold our newspapers in high regard because you live here with us.  You pay the same price at the pump or for a gallon of milk.  You are vanguards of the public trust.  We need you now.  We don’t just need you to cover the Camden County Commissioner race.  While that is important, it is also worth a few extra column inches to report on stories that bring a little perspective, a little understanding, to the fore.  The people need that.  When they hear it, they respond.

The Lake Sun is not my enemy.  It is a never-ending well of hope.

With your permission, I would like to post your kind letter on my blog.  It is informative regarding the new site.

Thanks again for all you do.
Paul

Oh, and I did send a copy of The Paywall Argument as a letter to the editor.  I hope to see it soon.

On Oct 3, 2012, at 12:45 PM, Eric Dundon wrote:

You may print my email to you on your blog.

I went ahead and pulled your post on the paywall argument from your blog to put in the opinion page for Thursday’s paper. In future, if you have something you’d like printed, send it to me at this address. I know in the past you’ve sent some letters to Amy Wilson, but she deals primarily with the Westside Star, so it’s most effective to send it to me.

Eric Dundon

On Wed, Oct 3, 2012 at 4:30 PM, Eric Dundon <eric.dundon@lakesunonline.com> wrote:
Another follow up. I spoke with Joyce about your latest letter regarding the paywall. She said you bring up many valid points. However, she’s also nervous about publishing a letter than does heavily criticize our parent company. She told she would think about it and sleep on it and have an answer for me tomorrow.
In short, your letter will not be  in Thursday’s paper. I’ll let you know if we proceed with it tomorrow or Tuesday (Monday is a postal holiday).
Thanks,
Eric
My reply: Wed Night
Eric,

I appreciate being kept in the loop.  I understand Joyce’s hesitation.  It isn’t always easy to do the right thing.  Unfortunately, it underlines the effects of corporate ownership on the editorial process in our own newspapers.  As I said before, we are all just doing our jobs.  I can appreciate Joyce’s consideration about running the piece.  We all know the truth, we all know it should be told.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it is good for ownership.  I didn’t create the issue.  Neither did you.  Neither did she.  Yet the responsibility for containment, from Gatehouse’s perspective, falls to Joyce.

To adequately explain your sudden move to a paywall without the context of Gatehouse’s debt and profit motive, is impossible.  Attempts to do so are hollow and disingenuous.  The truth is, this decision to make the move to a pay-per-content site wasn’t yours.  It was theirs.  It was driven by the bottom line.

I understand Joyce’s dilemma.  It isn’t easy to stand up and do the right thing.  It isn’t easy, in an environment that is growing more and more hostile toward the media, to have the courage to print truth.  It takes fortitude to do your jobs.  It takes character to print criticism.  It takes strength to stand behind that decision.

I believe that she, as Editor of the Lake Sun Leader, will make the right decision.  I have faith that she will allow the community to understand the paper’s decision to move to a paywall.

Again, I thank you for keeping me informed.

Thanks,
Paul

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