The Sacramento Bee today announced a big new risky online gamble: a premium politics website called CapitolAlert that costs a whopping $499 a year and gives subscribers early access to Bee stories, plus some email alerts and exclusive columns and blogs. One of those blogs will be Dan Weintraub's pioneering California Insider, which has done a lot to raise the Bee's profile, and Weintraub's, since it went online before the recall that made a politician of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Weintraub's posts will now be available only to a few dozen (or optimistically, several hundred) political professionals, once the trial period for Capitol Alert ends in two weeks. Never fear: he'll be back when this experiment at squeezing revenue out of a newspaper bombs. Just to contrast the value, you can get a year of the entire Wall Street Journal (plus extras) online for $79 a year. CapitolAlert looks to be mostly repackaging what the Bee Capitol bureau already produces, not giving readers a whole bunch of rich new sources or insights. Though there will be some helpful additions for Sacramento insiders, such as a calendar of political events.
* Update: I'm told the Bee will wait more than two weeks to move Weintraub into the pay-o-sphere, but he posts today: "Eventually, this blog will shift and become part of that product. It's all part of the new reality in the news business, where revenues from print are increasingly scarce and managers are looking for innovative ways to generate income from the Internet to keep our journalism alive."