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A Tip for the Herald: Explain What Happened

The Miami Herald very quietly announced it has extinguished a very brief experiment asking its web readers for voluntary contributions.

This announcement was so quiet, and the experiment so brief, one can only surmise that it didn't go very well. That the newspaper is making us surmise at all about the successes and failures of what has become known as the "tip-jar program" is disappointing, but more on that in 30 seconds or so.

When the company announced last December that it was going to provide a link for payment in the form of a donation at the end of each of its online stories I have to admit I thought it a bit goofy

But after thinking about it for another minute or two, I mostly loved it.

If nothing else, I thought it was exactly the kind of outside-the-box approach you seldom see the stuck-in-the-mud newspaper business attempt.

Newspapers have always thought they were above the fray that is the rest of the mass media. They prided themselves in taking a more thoughtful approach to the news, and how they presented it. The print business would leave all that yelling, screaming and fist-pumping for TV and radio's talking heads.

That reasoned, but haughty attitude, should have come to an abrupt halt when it was clear this sensation called the Internet was a bona fide hit. Most newspapers, of course, were slow to embrace this new way of disseminating the news and many of them might never recover from it.

By implementing this tip-jar approach to accrue revenue, The Miami Herald was sending the signal that it realized bold -- even goofy -- approaches were needed to gather revenue in this new world of communication.

Apparently this bold, goofy approach was a dud, and I can go back to being disheartened that newspapers are still better at talking down, or not at all, to their readers than any other media out there.

Instead of explaining to its readership what went wrong, and maybe even right, about the experiment, they just shut it down cold.

It's done and over, and the reasons for this are for us to know, and you to take a hike.

Nice, eh?

If we can assume that at least some people ponied up some cash in this program, don't you think they at least deserve some kind of an explanation?

One noted media-talker, Alan D. Mutter, reports he got an e-mail from the Herald on Monday, essentially saying that the company thought the request for reader donations conflicted with its campaign to raise relief dollars for Haiti earthquake victims.

If so, that's noble, but why is it buried in an email to one guy? And is that really the reasoning in its entirety?!

And what about the rest of the industry?

The Herald could have done a great service for their brothers and sisters in arms by enlightening them about what they gleaned from this experiment.

Lucky newspapers aren't in the communications business ...

But rather than go out on a low note, and bury the Florida newspaper for its awkward life-sustaining attempt, ponder this: What if this goofy experiment had been a success? What if by trying this tip-jar approach, The Herald discovered the key that would unlock all that treasure just waiting to be dumped on enterprising online news-providers?

What if, indeed.

So here's to the next round of bold and goofy approaches -- but with an explainer chaser, please!

(Got a tip, a gripe, or some kudos? Send 'em along.)