Gang Land Entrepreneur

In a feature story in yesterday’s Washington Post, Jerry Capeci’s subscription-only “Gang Land” Web site is held up as a possible template for newspapers trying to figure out how to charge for content on the Web.

Capeci’s column on all things Mafia began in the New York Daily News in 1989, running until 1995. He took the column online in 1996 and it’s been there ever since, enjoying a brief return to print in the New York Sun for a period of five plus years from August 2002 until October 2007.

In a profile of Capeci and his 20-years-and-running column (read by mobsters and law enforcement, alike) reporter Robin Shulman calls Jerry Capeci “something of a small-time trailblazer” for charging a $5 monthly subscription fee. But Capeci is no squealer and refuses to divulge just how much he earns through his Web site:

Last year, Capeci took the innovative step of making his Web-only column subscription-based, charging $5 a month at a time when he had 50,000 to 60,000 unique visitors per week on his site. “I’m doing well enough to make a living,” he said, unwilling to divulge details.

Of course, it’s not the $5 monthly online subscription fee that is going to save any newspaper. It’s having reporters like Capeci with sources no one else has — reporters whose matchless reporting can legitimately command those kinds of fees. And those kinds of reporters (older, experienced, expensive) aren’t going to be around to make money off of if newspapers keep axing them and buying them out.

Instead they’ll do exactly what Capeci did after leaving the New York Sun in a salary dispute right before it folded; say, ‘Arrivederci,’ to print, use their personal Web sites to charge their own fees, and make their own dough, thankyouverymuch.

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Alexandra Fenwick is an assistant editor at CJR.