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Kevin Whitmer, the senior vice president of content and development for NJ Advance Media. Photo courtesy of Facebook.

Star-Ledger shifts revenue model on text message service

Text message news alerts now only available to subscribers

By David Wildstein, February 17 2021 11:18 am

Star-Ledger subscribers may continue to plant questions at Gov. Phil Murphy’s press conferences,  NJ Advance Media senior vice president for content, expansion and development Kevin Whitmer said on Tuesday.

Whitmer said the text messaging platform launched 10 months ago to update readers on pandemic news will now require a paid NJ.com subscription.

“We charge a modest fee because we pay to use the Subtext platform and we pay each time we send a text,” Whitmer wrote in a letter to subscribers.  “As you can imagine, sending 73,000 readers dozens of texts each week can get expensive.”

Touting the advantages to a subscription and the text service, Whitmer noted that his reporters will take reader questions to top officials.

“You planted questions that we asked Gov. Murphy,” he said.

Whitmer’s email to subscribers, dated February 16, said that the fee will be required “as of next Tuesday, Feb. 9.”  The same message first appeared on the NJ.com website on February 4.

“Thank you for your support and subscription,” Whitmer wrote. “Our journalists are grateful.”

Many old media newspapers have been forced to adjust their business models in recent years.

The website for the Star-Ledger and NJ Advance Media newspapers in New Jersey, has begun marking certain news stories as “Subscriber Exclusive” in June 2020.  The move came ten weeks after Whitmer began asking for voluntary contributions from Star-Ledger readers in a bid to increase subscribers.

Advance Publications, which owns the Star-Ledger and other major U.S. newspapers, is the 47th largest privately-held company in the United States.  Conde Nast, the Discovery Channel, Reddit, and dozens of daily newspapers across the nation are just part of their portfolio.  Forbes estimates Advance’s annual revenue to be $6.25 billion.

Last March, Advance has gutted the Cleveland Plain Dealer, announcing layoffs of 18 of their remaining 32 reporters in March for a newspaper that had an editorial staff of 168 just seven years ago.

By May, the Plain Dealer staff was down to zero after Advance busted their union and shifted their last four reporters to Cleveland.com, their non-unionized online news site.

Also in March 2020, Advance announced an all-cash deal to buy the Beijing-based Ironman group for $730 million.  One week before that, Advance announced a $200 million investment in Scopely, a “fast-growing mobile games space” that allows you to play Wheel of Fortune on your smart phone.

At their New Orleans daily newspaper, the Times-Picayune, Advance had reduced their printing to three days a week before selling the newspaper to a competitor.  Nearly 170 journalism jobs were eliminated in that move.

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