Skip to main content

Andrey Popov/ISTOCKPHOTO

An old-school outlier of the digital news business is gambling on an expansion in a time of shrinking media, pitching readers in Newfoundland and Labrador on its unwavering commitment that local news is worth paying for.

On Monday, owners of the subscription news outlet AllNovaScotia will launch a sister site, AllNewfoundlandLabrador, hoping to persuade a new audience of well-connected Newfoundlanders to buy into a strict paywall model that seeks to restore a sensse of value to digital journalism.

The original Halifax-based site, launched in 2001 and then relaunched a year later after a false start, has become a must-read for a small but devoted group of Nova Scotia readers. It was founded by David Bentley, an idiosyncratic but disciplined journalist who apprenticed in the trade under revered British editor Harold Evans and later created the east coast satirical magazine Frank.

Story continues below advertisement

The site has been published only online from the start, and focused on business news, distinguishing it from its daily newspaper competitor, the Halifax Chronicle Herald, which has been locked in a bitter standoff with striking newsroom staff since late January. But it is AllNovaScotia's revenue strategy that sets it apart: It costs $15 per month for the first two months, then $30 monthly after that, though an account at the full rate can have three readers. Advertisements provide about 20 per cent of revenue, but the site survives on readers' willingness to open their wallets.

"The jury's out on paywalls, to some extent," Mr. Bentley said in an interview. But subscriptions have kept his outlet "solidly in the black," without outside investment, through a period of upheaval in journalism. "We've been in our own little space. … You can sort of see all this sturm [und] drang going on all around us."

AllNovaScotia rigidly enforces its demand that every reader pay. Other journalists are prevented from buying subscriptions to avoid having stories poached, and the site prevents readers from copying and pasting text to curb sharing. Subscribers found to be passing around stories from the site can expect a diplomatic scolding.

The aim is to beat back "this silly idea" that news is "just sort of available on the Internet," Mr. Bentley said – that it "sort of comes in there by magic."

AllNovaScotia employs 19 newsroom staff. His daughter, Caroline Wood, is the site's publisher, and other family members work on the five-person business side. There are no newsroom meetings, but editorial staff are tight-knit – 11 of them bought in as shareholders in the company in 2012.

While virtually every other news organization has added video and multimedia capabilities, pushing stories to readers through social media to find a wider audience, AllNovaScotia has effectively ignored Twitter and Facebook. Even photos rarely accompany articles written in straightforward, reporterly prose.

"In many ways, it's a real throwback to all sorts of traditional best practices in journalism," said Kelly Toughill, director of the School of Journalism at the University of King's College, who has studied the site's strategy.

Story continues below advertisement

Staff made the decision to expand into Newfoundland last year, partly because the province's economy was booming at the time, and opened a St. John's bureau staffed by two journalists, Alex Bill and Samantha Long. The plummeting price of oil has brought about an economic slowdown, but AllNovaScotia's owners are pressing ahead with plans to hire two more local reporters to AllNewfoundlandLabrador, which will compete for attention with the St. John's Telegram.

In the short term, Mr. Bentley's ambitions are modest: It would be "really good news" if the new site attracts 1,000 subscribers at $30 per month, and he expects even that will take time. After 15 years in business, AllNovaScotia has about 9,400 paying customers, whom Mr. Bentley describes as an "exclusive insider club."

That's another key part of the site's appeal: It is read "largely by the professional class in Halifax," Ms. Toughill said. "Anyone who makes important decisions in Nova Scotia needs to read AllNovaScotia."

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter