Some positives and negatives about paying for your news…

May 15, 2010

One way newspapers might survive is to provide information people need and in such a way that it cannot be obtained anywhere else.

That takes some investment, so the non-serious players probably don’t stand a chance.

This comes to my mind because I read in the past day or so that the New York Times as of next January will begin charging a fee to use of its online site (well that cuts me out).

The Times has already experimented with this to a limited extent. For a while it was charging for some of its stories. The Wall Street Journal site contains mostly teasers, where you have to sign up (I didn’t check, but I guess you have to pay — I don’t sign up for things on the web) to ge the rest of the story.

Other online publications that provide specialized info are starting to charge for it.

This is probably taking place because things that are given away for free tend to have that value. And it’s hard to make a business when you give your product away.

Now a lot of smaller newspapers that have concluded that their product is really advertising have not invested in providing quality editorial (I’m talking news, not opinion) content. I would think they would have trouble charging for online content.

I have enjoyed the free ride with the Times. If everyone goes this way, it’s going to get mighty expensive to get the news.

First it was all that free TV (not necessarily quality TV), financed by advertising that disappeared with the practical necessity of having cable (or satellite).

Now that we have all been convinced and in some cases darn near forced to have computers and now that we have gotten used to surfing the web for our news, they want us to pay for it. Go figure.

Seriously, I think there may be a problem in the future in getting news and info if you cannot afford it.

The cost of traditional paper newspapers (although still below the inflated costs of most things) has become prohibitive. Paying a service provider for the internet is expensive enough, but if you are going to have to pay additionally for the content, that could price a lot of us out of the market.

The for-profit motive has forced the issue here. In order to survive we all have to get paid for our efforts in some way. For a long time we were able to sneak by with getting our news at no cost to low cost because those who provided it were sustained by advertising revenue. (The print medium has ads and TV has commercials and radio has spots).

But in the case of newspapers, as they lost their circulation to broadcast, to include cable, and then the internet, they lost their ad revenue, because advertisers tend to pay on the basis of how many people they think are reading or at least glancing at your publication.

In desperation, newspapers (and magazines) began putting up websites. Apparently it did not occur to anyone to immediately charge for this. It was kind of like a free introductory offer that had no expiration date.

It has lasted so long that it may be difficult to attract paying customers. A story I read on the Huffington Post (yes, a free website — for now) said that 82 percent of those surveyed said they would decline to pay for news — they’d just go to another (free) site.

Well, so will I — as long as there are any left.

In a perfect world this all might be healthy. If it became impossible to get news (and/or information) without paying for it, that would create a demand, and people who were really serious about filling a need for a quality presentation of news could afford to provide it.

But we do not live in a perfect world. And for some reason, in broadcast for an example, the only quality news presentation (and it is not perfect) is supplied by public television and radio (non-commercial — although it does now have what I call quasi-commercials, with sponsors saying more than their name).

To sum up, while it is not going to help me (the free blogger), I have to think that those presenting serious information being paid for their efforts is a positive thing. I do worry, though, about a world where information is available only to those who can afford it (at least maybe we can still have public libraries — but they are always under funding threats).


In the case of newspapers, the ones who are faring the best, or at least are surviving, are the ones big enough and good enough to have a reputation (the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, as examples), some quality smaller city newspapers that have a regional draw, and even small newspapers that have a niche and provide something readers want.

P.s. P.s.

But just as much as competition from other media and a general decline in reading among the public has hurt newspapers, what has hurt them even more, I think, is the fact that in the past several decades the newspaper industry has been largely taken over by non-journalism business types who have no interest in the very thing they purport to be producing, newspapers. They felt that you could just sell advertising and fill the remaining space with cheap to free filler. The result has been the decline in print journalism. But since print journalism is still the backbone of all news, that is a problem for all forms of journalism.

When the serious players in all of this can no longer afford to operate we will be left with sensationalism and happy talk and one-sided harangues, such as Rush Limberger Cheese and his ilk. And that really will be the ruin of our democracy. Tyranny thrives where people are kept ignorant.