Local Journalists Lead “Paying for Content” Panel

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The Sacramento Press and The Sacramento Bee co-sponsored a panel discussion titled "Paying for Content" on June 22.

The third floor of The Bee housed 37 people who gathered to listen to panelists discuss paywalls, online revenue and the relationship between consumer and organization.

Independent journalist JT Long moderated.

The panelists were Tim Foster, editor of Midtown Monthly; Michael Sanford, KVIE’s vice president for content creation; Geoff Samek, co-founder of The Sacramento Press; Tom Negrete, Bee managing editor for the online edition and production; Ron Trujillo, editor of The Sacramento Business Journal; and Mike O’Brien, co-publisher and owner of Sacramento Magazines Corporation.

The panel started with panelists introductions. Each discussed their website and explained how it makes money.

Foster said Midtown Monthly receives revenue from advertising. Sanford said KVIE relies on membership contributions. The Sacramento Press has four forms of revenue, according to Samek: display advertising, social media consulting, events and sponsorship, and digital advertising website Sacramento Local Online Ad Network (SLOAN). The Bee’s website accounts for 15 percent of its revenue, Negrete said, mostly through display advertising.

Trujillo showed where advertising is placed on the Journal’s website.

"Where we make our money in the newsroom is exclusive subscriber content," he said.

O’Brien said his magazine has 25,000 monthly subscribers and sells about 7,500 copies at newsstands monthly. The corporation publishes both Sacramento Magazine and Our Wedding Magazine.

"We’ll extend our core niche in our print product onto the Web," O’Brien said.

Long asked the panel to attempt to predict how their sources of revenue will change in the future.

"We’ve gone from analog dollars to digital dimes," O’Brien said. "The big change that we see is the tablets and mobile applications. With the iPhone application, people are paying for content and I know that’ll be a key issue for all of us. (Sacramento Magazine) will have our mobile application soon."

Users are in control now and have more choices than ever, Negrete said.

"Also, everybody can be a publisher now," he said. "Our marketing research department is a department with few people, and that should probably grow because that information is going to become crucial."

The topic moved into content when Long asked if the panel used freelance or staff writers, and how subjective the stories are.

"We are almost 100 percent freelanced," Foster said. "And I do worry someone is going to come to me and they’re going to want to write about something that is not completely subjective objective. As far as the advertising driving the content, I have to rely on my own ethical rules, and so far I think we’ve done pretty good about that."

Samek said transparency helps balance bias in articles for his website.

"Citizen journalism is at the core of what we do," Samek said "For us, we see it as a mix of us and the community of Sacramento as the region’s storytellers. Now when it comes to objectivity, it’s a tricky thing. It’s something we can’t have in the same way. You’ll see transparency as a crucial thing in the future."

KVIE stories and programs are submitted by producers, Sanford said.

"(Our programs) met our editorial standards and were objective," he said.

Audience members then asked questions and offered suggestions.

Questions were directed toward the entire panel and occasionally a specific person.

"How does the legacy of (SacPress) play into how aggressively you go out to new types of revenue?" Cody Kitaura of Sacramento asked. "Are you concerned about SacPress being a consulting business rather than a place they go for news?"

"It comes down to what can we do well, and we try to do that," Samek said. "I don’t think that takes away from the SacPress and the branding of it. Why wouldn’t we just start a business that’s social media consulting? It loops back around to the fact that we became good at consulting because we ran a newsroom."

Sue Wilson of Amador County asked the panelists for their opinions on content sharing.

"I’m wondering what kind of interest there is in terms of someone producing for various local papers and for you guys on multiple platforms," she said. "Is there that interest or do you want that kind of cross pollination among your newsrooms?"

"There’s many city magazines in California," O’Brien said. "And all of us, generalizing, have done a story on escaping to Carmel. Why is it that we don’t collaborate with others?

“Two answers: one is that we want our own spin. We want to deliver the sensibilities of Sacramento whatever that may be. And second is these publications tend to be entrepreneurial and want to do it their own way."

Trujillo asked how the shared content revenue could be divided.

"I think that cooperation is crucial, and the fact that Sacramento Press is here at The Sacramento Bee — instead this is a step in the right direction," Samek said. "Even if you wanted to compete, local media is facing so much pressure.

“The pie is shrinking. Cooperation is very crucial in this environment. Everybody knows what they do best and overlap isn’t that bad."

The discussion ended with discussing whether or not the publications intended on using a paywall.

Trujillo said The Business Journal has a hybrid of a paywall. The Journal’s website has free online content, but printed content is viewable only by subscribers. Non-subscribers must wait four weeks to read printed content on the website.

Other panelists said no.

We need the traffic and that just would not work, O’Brien said.

“KVIE is focused on being the premiere storyteller about our region,” Sanford said in an e-mail Wednesday. “It’s important to us that we share this content with as wide an audience as possible – not just on television, but through our websites and social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

“Making our content available to everyone in our community regardless of their ability to pay is central to our mission and we have no plans to charge for online content.”

"I don’t think a paywall is the answer for us right now," Negrete said.

The discussion was recorded by Access Sacramento. The air date has yet to be determined.


1) The Sacramento Bee hosted the panel on the third floor of its headquarters.

2) Panelists (L to R) Foster, Sanford and Samek.

3) Panelists (L to R) Negrete, Trujillo and O’Brien.

4) Panelists (L to R) Negrete and Trujillo.

Photos by Colleen Belcher.


Agnus-Dei Farrant is an intern for The Sacramento Press.


  • Sherrie Tyler

    very well written and informative.

  • Roni Deutch

    Interesting article. As a user of Sacramento Press, I appreciate knowing that there are educated people in serious discussion about the future of the site. It is also fascinating to see how the Sacramento Press methods compare to those of the Sacramento Bee, Sacramento Business Journal and other publications.

  • Stella M.

    Good job on the recap of this panel. I could not make it to the discussion, but was very interested in the topic!

  • Burt Wilson

    The title of the event was “paying for content” but I don’t recall any of the panel members discussing payment! How much for a story? How much for a TV production? There was no “This is what we pay for content.” The panel was more concerned with pumping up their own enterprises.

  • O’Brien’s comment about getting the “sensibilities of Sacramento” into a story on Carmel doesn’t make any money sense. Why not take the cheaper, generic story written by “Joe Anybody From Anywhere” and then have one of his editors create a informational box that pertains to Sacramento posted with the story? Guess he doesn’t need to budget. His idea of an iPhone app for Sac Mag is great.
    In general, none of these experts seems to have a clue how to make any real money digitally/online. The quest continues….

    • Burt Wilson


    • @Oracle: generic stories have no place in an original, regional medium–particularly one that is paid for, like the great Sacramento magazine. Joe Anybody’s perspective will not resonate as personably with a local audience as Sacramento Sam’s perspective.

  • Jennifer Snyder

    @Burt: The panel wasn’t meant to address whether or not they will pay writers/contributors for contributions or news tips. The panel was focused on the news industry and whether or not the consumer should pay to read the content/news (it sounds like the answer is “no” for the most part). The panel members did a wonderful job discussing how they can stay afloat by making money “around” the news (ie: ads, sponsors, etc) and keep the news accessible to all.

    • The title of this panel was confusing, not a good sign.

  • Burt Wilson

    Jen–the title was “PAYING FOR CONTENT”–I rest my case.

    • When the headline misleads or confuses, which this did, we end up with misled and confused readers such as you — and me!

    • Colleen Belcher

      I apologize for the confusion with the title. The invitation that was sent out specifically mentioned paywalls and the panel was designed to discuss whether news consumers should pay for online content and why or why not.

      The last half hour was set aside for audience questions, which could open up the topics to something else. I’m sorry, Burt, if your questions weren’t answered.

  • Richard Lingensjo

    The SacBee event was advertised to be about writers getting paid for their work.

    In spite of the fact I have a letter from the Editor of a McGraw-Hill periodical praising my specific work, at the event Tuesday evening, a paid “free lance” writer (we are acquainted) attempted to convince me that same periodical, that person writes for, must not “like” the writing I have done.

    The deterioration of journalism into “he said vs she said” regurgitation has taken many years, but here we are. Truth and accuracy have been replaced with a debate mentality; each side (maybe more than two) exaggerates their talking points to prevail.

    Editors can more easily manipulate “reporters” who have no experience in the field of work or study they are assigned to cover. Probing followup questions as a response to a statement are less affective if the reporter has no personal “background” in the topic for discussion.

    Electronically recording the interviews, by the moderator / reporter, and replay the piece in writing now passes for journalism. Feel good delusion is an asset to success in our time because social networking is prized above actual bottom-line results.

    Left spin + right spin NOT = truth.

    My writing is controversial, however, no apology from me for bring a “conservative” market orientation to a topic. The first writing I did (unpaid) for the McGraw-Hill periodical was included in their next issue. That effort prompted a telephone call from James (he introduced himself as Jay) McGraw III.

    My subscription to our mutual periodical publication started in 1974 and my professional experience within the related industry has progressed uninterrupted. I submit that reporting the “truth”, as best we can, is more useful for educating the young and others.

  • Burt Wilson

    I’m sorry, but these comments seem to belong somewhere else.

    • perhaps in a different century

  • Is this story just for journalistic insiders???

    What does “paying for content” mean. What is a “paywall” What do you mean exactly by “online revenue and the relationship between consumer and organization.” This “story” is nothing buy notes from a meeting with no journalism, no explanation for the average reader, no explanation of on-line journalist jargon. The comments to the article are more insightful and informative than the story itself, and that just somehow doesn’t seem right. What’s up?

  • Lesley Miller

    Thank you for this great article. I wasn’t able to attend the panel but this article filled me in with the main details.

  • Too bad women have nothing to contribute to a panel like this.

    • Fredric Hayward

      A woman organized it, another woman gave the opening remarks, another woman moderated it, and other women were fully represented in the discussion. (Too bad African-Americans had nothing to contribute! Too bad Native Americans had nothing to contribute! Too bad Asian Americans had nothing to contribute! Too bad Muslims had nothing to contribute! Blah, blah, blah!) Had an all-female panel been “under the control” of a male moderator, you could play your victim card over that, too.

    • Since you are apparently a white male, you have the privilege of missing the point, adding insult to injury and reinforcing the impression of ignorant arrogance that goes with the territory.

      You even present the presence of women as facilitators, helpers, assistants to a presentation of male dominance in an industry, as a positive. Females sure are lucky they got to do anything at all and that in our culture, women are allowed to be in the audience, show their faces and even to speak!!

      There were six members on the panel.

      There were no women on the panel.

      One of the male members appeared to be not completely WASPy white, so the comment about ethnicity was not added.

      Your hostility and nastiness about “you could play your victim card” exemplifies exactly what the problem is, why it is a problem and why it IS noticeable and worth mentioning.

      You gotta get off the Limbaugh and O’Riley, it’s bad stuff. Addictive. Toxic.

      “Blah Blah.” The Era of the Bully is over. Wake up and smell the paradigm shift or it will knock you off your molehill.

    • Fredric Hayward

      “Females sure are lucky they got to do anything at all and that in our culture, women are allowed to be in the audience, show their faces and even to speak!!”

      I don’t know what to say, Naga, except that I really feel sorry for you. I’m just glad that I live in a different world from the one you feel you live in.

    • P W

      Who made the coffee?

  • Casey Kirk

    naga: It’s certainly great that you think women should have been more represented and we would love to have more people represented on panels in the future. If there is someone specific that you know of in the community or if you have an idea for a panel, I encourage you to email your feedback to Colleen@sacramentopress.com, who played a huge role in planning the event.

    I would also like to clarify to everyone that two women were invited to be on the panel. One declined and the other sent a male in her place.

    • Thank you, Casey

  • Mary Franklin

    Try not to all jump on me too hard if I leave a little reply here….

    A woman in the audience, after listening to a few of the panelists’ concerns about how to raise money for the production of a food-related show & how to increase their distribution circle, came up with a pretty darn good suggestion for both. It was commented, by both panelists, that they’d never considered that solution before because they’d never heard about it being done by anyone else….
    …. and that, my friends, came from a woman.


    (I’ll be here all week.)

    PS: Yes, I agree that the majority of the panelists should have stuck more to the format that the title lent itself to: hey this is how we hire freelancers, this is how we pay and WHAT we pay for. A few of them talked too much about their distribution format, technology and business plans. But it was an informative evening and I’d do it again any time.


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