‘Tip jar’ vanishes at Miami Herald website
Guffaws and groans greeted the paper’s decision in mid-December to add a heartfelt plea for voluntary donations from readers to the bottom of each of its web pages. But the plea and the link to an accompanying payment page were nowhere in evidence on the website over the weekend.
The now-missing plea, which thoughtfully was archived by Editor & Publisher, said, in part:
“Thank you for helping to make MiamiHerald.com South Florida's most-read news destination on the web…. If you value The Miami Herald's local news reporting and investigations, but prefer the convenience of the Internet, please consider a voluntary payment for the web news that matters to you.”
Although a number of publishers have attempted – with varying degrees of success – to charge for some or all of their online content, the Herald is believed to be the first major newspaper to try the tip-jar approach.
Industry surveys have shown that the average number of subscribers at paid newspaper sites is equal to 2.4% of the paper’s print circulation. Newsday famously admitted that only 35 web visitors have coughed up the $5 a week now required to view its site.
Herald officials steadfastly refused to detail the response to the novel program, which debuted in mid-December. However, Herald editor Anders Gyllenhaal said shortly before Christmas that “the first few days of this experiment have elicited an encouraging steam of gifts, ranging from $2 to $55.”
The paper published a short article on Saturday saying it decided to discontinue the program, without explaining the reasons for the decision or the amount of money that had been raised. UPDATE: In an email at mid-day today, Gyllenhaal said the paper felt the request for reader donations conflicted with a campaign for Haiti earthquake relief that has raised more than $1 million.
In his pre-Christmas column, Gyllenhaal said the idea of seeking voluntary donations was inspired by the offer from an online-only reader of the paper’s free website, who wanted to send the Herald a check to support future investigative reporting. While the paper at the time did not have a mechanism for accepting such payments, management decided to test the waters by soliciting voluntary donations.
Judging from the comments attracted by Gyllenhaal’s column, the program was not universally embraced.
“I thought those advertisers actually paid you guys to put all this stuff up that we have to see if we want to look at this site,” said a reader identified as jstella. “Silly me.”
“Yeah, I'm going to tip a for-profit business,” said a commenter identified as lucky0111. “I'd rather burn my money.”