If the Los Angeles Daily News and its sister papers charge for online stories, will readers pay?

It? a question that some industry watchers are raising in response to a May 8 memo written by Dean Singleton, chief executive of MediaNews Group Inc. He announced the company would soon tell its online audience that doesn? already subscribe to a MediaNews newspaper that ?f you want access to all online content, you are going to have to register and/or pay.?

The memo raised eyebrows among journalism pundits who question whether MediaNews ?which owns nine newspapers in the L.A. area ?produces stories that readers would be willing to pay for. And given a slew of cuts the company has made to its papers, it will be trying to convince readers they should now pay for what amounts to less.

Only a few newspapers aimed at niche or affluent audiences have managed to charge readers to access their Web sites. Efforts by general interest papers such as the ones run by MediaNews have fallen flat because readers often can find the news elsewhere online for free.

?ven the L.A. Times has tried in different ways to do this and nobody paid for it, and their content is richer than anybody else?, including the Daily News??said Ron Kaye, former editor of the Daily News and now a local blogger.

A MediaNews executive did not return phone calls seeking comment. The memo did not specify how much the company may charge for online content.

The Denver-based company, along with many others, has seen newspaper advertising revenue plummet and circulation fall. MediaNews?local publications ?including the Daily News, the Long Beach Press-Telegram and Torrance Daily Breeze ?have been decimated by layoffs and other cost cuts.

This is the second announcement from MediaNews that has prompted skepticism from industry observers. The company in March said that it would begin distributing special printers to its readers who could then print a customized copy of the newspaper in their homes. That effort, dubbed iNews, is scheduled to launch this summer. The proposal puzzles analysts who question why the company would invest in print technology rather than Internet initiatives.

In his recent memo, a copy of which was obtained by the Business Journal, Singleton said MediaNews would not try to ?nvent new premium products,?but instead find ways to charge readers for existing online content.

But Michael Parks, a former editor of the Times and now a professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, said the only way MediaNews might succeed at charging for online content is to give readers a premium service.

?iven the papers that Singleton has, I don? think the toll barrier really works unless he? going to develop something new,?said Parks. ?nd I don? know what that would be.?p>

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