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Derp Undone

July 31, 2012 at 1:25pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

The City Council went ahead and reversed course yesterday by approving the Sam’s Club liquor license after all. One point to them for the reversal, but negative 12 points for being boneheaded the first time around.

A Note About Links

July 31, 2012 at 1:00pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Historically, I’ve relied heavily on linking to the Lincoln Journal Star website to provide background information about the topics I discuss here. With the new LJS website paywall in place, that’s not going to work so well. Right?

Actually, for now I think we’ll be ok.

It turns out that if you access content on the LJS website via a mobile-friendly URL, that view doesn’t count against your monthly access limit. So for now I’ll just link to m.journalstar.com instead of journalstar.com. Unless they take away that option, that’ll allow me to still link to articles without you non-payers having to use any of your 10 article views per month. If there’s ever an article for which that doesn’t work, I’ll append [$] behind the link so you know what you’re getting into before you click.

And of course there will be many more links to free sites like 10/11. The content tends to be less in-depth, but we’ll take what we can get.

The LJS Paywall in Action

July 30, 2012 at 1:25pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

The LJS paywall that I brought up yesterday is now in effect. What does it look like? Let’s take a look.

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Where in Lincoln is this?

July 30, 2012 at 12:38pm By: Mr. T Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

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EDIT: This was a tough one. Successfully solved!

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On Paywalls

July 29, 2012 at 6:17pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

It finally happened. After months—nay, years—of speculation, the Journal Star’s website goes behind a paywall today. That’s what editor Dave Bundy tells us, anyway. I haven’t actually been able to get the paywall to kick in for me. Nor, to my knowledge, has anybody else. I’m sure it will turn on soon.

Many media organizations have tried website paywalls. Some of them have fared okay. Many have failed. Some failed spectacularly. Let’s analyze the Journal Star’s approach.

The paywall works on a rolling 30-day basis. Within those thirty days you can view up to ten pieces of “locally produced content”. That excludes ads, contests, and wire content. After you reach your quota you will need to pay up: $1.95 per month for 7-day LJS subscribes and $9.95 monthly for everybody else. Put another way, that’s $0.065 or $0.33 per day. There’s no “day pass” for temporary access.

Since I have not yet been able to trigger the paywall, I don’t yet know what method the LJS will use to block content. Some sites use an “overlay” that’s trivial to circumvent with a little know-how, while others use more advanced approaches. Likewise, some sites track content access with something as basic as a browser cookie (which, again, is trivial to get around), some use IP-based tracking (which can be a real pain in shared-IP environments), and some use far more sophisticated methods of user tracking. We’ll have to exercise a bit of wait-and-see.

Neither is it apparent how one goes about paying for the service. The Journal Star’s subscription page—in addition to being horribly laid out—doesn’t give any hints about paying for online content. (Incidentally, that page also claims that 7-day delivery of the dead tree edition costs $48. Yikes! Who pays that much? I pay $21.)

Once the paywall does kick in, is it worth it? Overall I say yes. But there are asterisks.

Ten bucks a month is nothing for what is clearly the best local news source in Lincoln. Before you get all snarky and mock that sentence, think about what I’ve actually said. I didn’t claim that the LJS is a hotbed of Pulitzer-worthy activity. It’s not. But it’s unquestionably the best we’ve got and, overall, it’s not bad. Outfits like 10/11 and KLIN do a good job here and there, but they just can’t compete with the Journal Star on a broader level. Besides, for all JournalStar.com’s shortcomings, it’s far superior to 1011now.com and klin.com.

Furthermore, 33 cents per day is a small price to pay to have access to good local news and commentary. It’s not zero, but it’s close. And when you consider the local folks you’re keeping employed for that price and the value they bring to the table, it’s worth it. You know as well as I do that the dead tree edition isn’t going to keep the LJS afloat. They have to keep money coming in somehow.

That being said, the Journal Star acquires some obligations with the paywall. Folks paying for website access are going to expect fewer—or at least less obtrusive—ads. I blocked ads on journalstar.com a long time ago and I don’t feel a single pang of regret. Why? Because the Journal Star’s present online advertising approach is flat-out abusive to its readers. The animations, the pop-overs, the fold-downs—they all scream “WE HATE YOU, READER!”. They can kiss AdBlock’s shiny javascript ass until they figure out how to advertise to me in a respectful manner. And yes, I do disable ad blocking on sites that provide me with quality content and that respect me as a customer.

The LJS also needs to drastically improve its mobile browsing experience. The paper’s “mobile-friendly” site is anything but: links are broken; navigation is difficult; much content is completely inaccessible; and so on. And if you try to instead view the regular website, sometimes it respects your preferences and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s maddening. They shouldn’t expect any customers to tolerate that, and certainly not paying ones.

Now what about that $1.95 for 7-day subscribers? I have two reactions. First, it strikes me as very odd that only 7-day subscribers get the discount. I understand why they should get the largest discount, but surely other paying customers deserve a cut as well. Perhaps this is their way of squeezing more customers into 7-day subscriptions. If so, it’s lame.

Second—and more importantly—talk about a slap in the face. The folks at the Journal Star expect me to pay extra to receive the same content, written by the same people, with zero extra work on their part, in a format that allows them to present me with a second set of advertisements, delivered via a system that is orders of magnitude less expensive to operate than the dead tree edition? Ha! Even at less than 7 cents per day that’s an insult of fantastic proportions. Had they tacked on an extra dollar or two to my monthly dead tree edition bill I probably wouldn’t have said anything. But coming out and asking for this money separately ... well, it just doesn’t sit right with me.

Where does that leave us? I’ve reached a few conclusions. First, I have no choice but to pay the two bucks each month. As a local blogger I have to have online access to this material. It’s not optional for me. That being said, expect many more links to other local news websites: 1011now.com, klin.com, and so forth. In addition, when I do link to journalstar.com, expect me to expand my “fair use” quoting of their content so that non-subscribers have some idea what I’m talking about. Presently I often link to articles and assume you’ll go read it; I’ll do much less of that from now on. Hopefully the folks at the LJS understand how my quoting is ultimately good for them, assuming I don’t abuse the practice of course.

Second, I whole-heartedly endorse the Journal Star’s website paywall as a general concept. Mock them all you want (and I do!), but they provide a service that Lincoln must have and that nobody else provides at anywhere near the same level. They need to make money from their products and a website paywall is a reasonable way to do that. The cost for non-subscribers seems reasonable to me, though they may want to investigate a “lite” access program. How does $6 per month for 60 articles (2 per day) sound? Customer research will show whether there’s demand for that sort of thing.

Third, the Journal Star incurs obligations with this act. They must quickly move to improve their online and mobile services to further justify the new costs. Furthermore, they should be transparent with customers, communicating openly and often about what they’re up to. The anticipation of improved and/or expanded services will keep down the complaints about the monthly bill.

This is a big day for local media, with potential implications far beyond what I’ve touched on in this post. Let’s hear your thoughts.

Backpeddle

July 26, 2012 at 1:00pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

City Councilman Jon Camp learned an important lesson yesterday: When you’ve got a job that carries large responsibilities, your actions actually do have a very real effect on other people. That’s why Lincolnites city-wide heard a loud screeching noise yesterday as Mr. Camp struggled to backpeddle on his earlier vote to deny Sam’s Club a liquor license in a misguided attempt to “send a message” to folks at Wal-Mart HQ. He apparently convinced at least a couple of his fellow Council members as well, because they’re going to hold a re-vote on Monday.

Notably, Gene Carroll and Adam Hornung didn’t play games with the vote the first time around.

Rather than slowing Walmart’s constructions plans—the store on South 27th Street is still going up as planned—all the City Council’s earlier vote did was demonstrate how ridiculous a group of adults can act when they’re pouting. They really ought to be ashamed. Not that Walmart expects any better from Lincoln. After all, they survived the Seng administration and her bizarre quirks. But surely Lincolnites should expect better. Agree or disagree with Walmart’s proposed store, the Council’s actions here have been embarrassing.

Lincoln’s Own Trayvon Martin Case?

July 25, 2012 at 1:25pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

From the very beginning I had a weird feeling in my gut about the local woman who was bound, slashed, and set on fire. Lincolnites quickly jumped on the “hate crime” bandwagon, and even national media got on board. Something about the whole thing felt ... off. To be honest, I was starting to feel bad about my lack of outrage. Why wasn’t I more wound up about the whole thing? Then this morning’s headline:

Police not ruling out possibility hate crime was staged

Yikes! Either way this is an incredible story. Lincoln may have been the site of a classic, brutal hate crime, but fortunately the community came out in droves to support the victim and condemn the heinous act. Or a sick individual assaulted herself as a desperate attention-seeking act, and locals were more than happy to take the bait without hesitation. There are so many possible storylines here it’s all a bit overwhelming. Whatever the truth this one is going to be fascinating to watch. Keep an eye on it.

Childish and Petty

July 25, 2012 at 1:15pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Yesterday morning I had a great post all written up about how childish and petty it was that the Lincoln City Council voted 5-2 to deny Sam’s Club (87th and Highway 2) its liquor license in order to “send a message” in protest of the proposed Walmart at 27th and Yankee Hill. (The Liquor Control Board actually has the final say.) It was one of the better pieces I’ve written in quite a while.

And then, just as I proof-read it one last time, I accidentally deleted it.

I pouted for a day, but this morning I figured I had better come back and at least say something about the move. Although I called out the City Council on Twitter—as did many other Lincolnites—they need to be shamed in as many venues as possible. Despite all the claims Lincoln’s leaders make about wanting Lincoln to attract jobs and move forward and all that, we still fall victim to the same old small town political baloney that we’ve always put up with. The City Council ought to be ashamed of itself.

Incidentally, despite only having a kindergarten education, my six year-old son has managed to figure out the situation pretty well: “Why don’t the people who don’t like the store not shop there, then if they get enough people to not shop there Walmart will have to close”. The kid’s got a future, I tell ya.

Envisioning the Arena

July 24, 2012 at 1:00pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

If you’re having trouble envisioning how the Pinnacle Bank Arena will fit into the Haymarket, this video is for you:

It’s not a perfect video, of course. (And I’m not talking about the zombie arenagoers.) The video takes many liberties with the surrounding area. So although you might be tempted to make judgments about the area as a whole, don’t be too hasty. The video’s purpose is to show off the outside of the arena from various vantage points. It does that just fine.

I’ve got to be honest, though. When it comes to local venue news I’m significantly more excited about the return of concerts to Pinewood Bowl than I am about the arena. That’ll change once the arena gets closer to opening, but let’s face it: this is the outdoor venue’s summer to shine. The arena can have next summer.

Where in Lincoln is this?

July 23, 2012 at 1:00pm By: Mr. T Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

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EDIT: Solved!

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A Few Good Volunteers

July 13, 2012 at 1:40pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I’m looking for a few good moderators to help kill spam in the comments while I’m on vacation. It’s easy—you just click a button. The only requirement is that I have some idea who you are.

Volunteers?

Insert Joke About Lincoln Drivers

July 12, 2012 at 2:05pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I’m kind of curious who will attend the City’s “how to drive a roundabout” open house on Tuesday from 5pm to 7pm at Campbell Elementary. Folks who actually need the help? Older drivers? Angry Lincolnites who are only attending so they can bitch about roundabouts and other local traffic abominations?

Whatever the case, I suspect the poor City employees who work the open house are going to need a heaping helping of patience.

What a Difference Two Months Make

July 12, 2012 at 2:00pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Then: Mayor: No water restrictions this summer

Now: Lincoln Residents Asked to Conserve Water for Remainder of Summer

I can’t understand why the City’s voluntary water standards aren’t more aggressively pushed every year. It’s always a good thing to conserve water, drought or not. It’s the socially- and environmentally-responsible thing to do. Individuals may have the occasional reason to deviate from the restrictions, and that’s fine. But as a general rule every Lincolnite should exercise common sense water usage on their residential and commercial properties every day. Why not?

Lincoln is An 8 Bit Town

July 11, 2012 at 1:00pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Parking on the street Downtown is likely to get more expensive under Mayor Beutler’s budget plan. An hour of meter parking currently runs $0.50 per hour. Beutler’s budget increases that amount to a buck. There’s already been a lot of whining from folks who claim they’ll “never” park Downtown again, blah blah blah. Whatever.

A dollar an hour is a very fair price for parking that’s supposed to have high turnover so that nearby businesses are (relatively) easy to access. If you want longer parking, you park in a garage. In fact, with first hour free, parking validation, and pre-paid parking cards, Lincoln’s garages can actually be significantly cheaper than $1.00 per hour.

Jack Mitchell has suggested that rather than raising meter rates, the City should sell $100 annual passes that can be used for unlimited meter parking. The general idea is interesting, but his price is way off. For frequent Downtown patrons, employees, and residents, $100 is nothing. They already pay considerably more than that for garage access or meter parking. Only charging a hundred dollars per year—although the amount sounds like a lot—would lose money for the City.

But let’s not let his example amount sidetrack us from the actual question of whether some sort of “unlimited” pass would be a good idea. I don’t like it because it defeats the purpose of metered parking. Meters are designed to get vehicles in and out. They’re all about turnover. In some places they work great. Consider the meters directly in front of Juice Stop and Lincoln Running Company. Cars are constantly moving in and out of those spots. If vehicles in those spots had no incentive to leave, nearby businesses would suffer.

I’m not inherently against the idea of some sort of pass, however. For example, I like the idea of allowing folks to purchase a pass that would let them park at meters for the normal duration of the meter. That would spare people the annoyance of carrying change. And it’s better than simply allowing the use of debit cards because (I think) it would keep card processing fees lower.

Another system I would like to see put in place is a geographically-based pricing structure. Some parking spots are considerably more valuable than others. Why shouldn’t they be priced that way? There’s no good reason for the meters on M Street to be priced the same as those on P Street. Prime meters could be priced at $1.50 or even $2.00 per hour, while lesser meters might be as low as $0.50 or $0.75.

Which approach do you prefer when it comes to parking meters?

Where in Lincoln is this?

July 9, 2012 at 2:08pm By: Mr. T Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

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EDIT: Solved!

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