Minneapolis Star-Tribune editor Nancy Barnes this weekend took the wraps off a plan to reserve some -- non-breaking news -- content for paying customers only. God bless her. It's an important step toward a future business model based at least partially on the precept that not all content can be free.
The STrib is going to publish enterprise, investigative and feature work as "print exclusives" and run them on dead trees only. The paper's Web site will continue to have everything else.
Truth be told, I'm not sure online readers/viewers are losing a whole lot in the deal. Breaking local news and sports have been the biggest drivers of news Web sites like the Strib's, anyway. Videos and photo galleries are playing a bigger role all the time. That stuff will still be there. What's lost will be the kind of work that translates best into print, at least given the current design of most news sites.
And the newspaper becomes more valuable in the process, giving subscribers an incentive to keep paying us to produce this content.
Ideally, the Strib will eventually take this experiment one step further. The key is having a premium level of content for customers who pay; it's not a print vs. online distinction. So if you also offer the bonus material in a premium format online for customers who prefer to buy it that way, so much the better. Either way, they're paying customers -- exactly the kind we'll need more of in the future.