The Dangers of the Content Paywall

Mar 8, 2011 by

The Pulitzer Prize gold medal award

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It’s no secret the newspaper industry has been hanging from a thread the past few years thanks to the emergence of the Internet, a never-ending cycle of news and the rise of the blog and “citizen journalism.”

We’ve known many a reporter here in Dallas who used to work for The Dallas Morning News, which has made the jump to having a “paywall,” where a non-subscriber pays an arm and a leg a month for access of “privileged content.”

Newspapers and other print publications, after all, say that to stay in business, to keep professional staff aboard, cover the costs of lost revenues from advertisements in their print publications and the dramatic reduced cost for ads online, they have to make money some way.  In the case of TDMN, non-subscribers to the paper will be able to read headlines, blogs, obituaries, classifieds and any syndicated content for free, but local news will be blocked.

The Dangers of the Content Paywall

We’ve recently heard how The Dallas Morning News has brought certain ringers into town with the sole purpose of 1) winning a Pulitzer Prize, and 2) for digging so agonizingly deep into the recesses of public and private information so that they can in fact, add content to their site to substantiate your paying a whopping sum for such.  Just thinking that’s even a sustainable model is ridiculous, but such is how it’s apparently going over at TDMN in certain departments.

And there in lies the danger in the whole notion of paying for content. Here is a publication with a storied reputation now performing on a somewhat National Enquirer type level to make sure it has the dirt that no one else does so that you can feel justified in paying a whopping sum each month to read it.  Now one can argue this is how the news business always has been and why so many have this overriding distrust of the media, but we’re hearing how senior management at TDMN has taken this to a whole new level.

Paywall Fees

According to Gigaom.com, “a subscription to the print TDMN and all of the Dallas publisher’s digital content (which includes an iPad app) is $33.95 a month, and an online-only subscription is $16.95 a month. By comparison, Rupert Murdoch’s new iPad app The Daily costs $3.96 a month or $39.99 for a year.”

Seriously.  We quit buying TDMN daily when the price of the print paper went from $.50 per day to $1.00.  Instead we now read every now and then on DallasNews.com.  If we needed to find out anything local, we’d turn on talk radio or check in on the TV news at the end of the day.  Jim Moroney, there’s no way we’re going to pay $33.95 a month for the print addition and online content, nor $16.95 per month for the digital version.   And yes, we realize that still works out to $1.oo per day or $.50 cents a day depending on which way one goes, but quite frankly, when you can down load and read the latest top novel of 178-plus pages for between $9.99 and $12.99, it just feels wrong to pay that much for a limited amount of local content. And if you break down the $33.95 per month that means one’s getting the print addition for $.50 cents again and the online version for the other $.50 cents a day.   How is that possibly a sustainable model?

Survival of the Newsroom

We understand the need for the paper to be able to pay its employees.  We’ve long thought that the salaries paid to newspaper reporters were bad enough.  A paywall seems the surest way to expedite the folding of these once mammoth news organizations.  And that’s a shame, too, because that also means words like “accuracy” and “in depth reporting” start to have totally new meaning, especially when those who have survived the cuts in the newsroom now are responsible for getting blood out of news turnups so that it won’t wind up in the free-content side.

Recalculate the demise of the nation’s newspapers.  Paywall is not going to save them and if having a paywall has the intended consequence of the paper unleashing such investigations of others, then we’re all the more for it.

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