Monday, November 25, 2013

Why Pay for Free Stuff

The local ABC station, WCPO Channel 9, recently announced that it was going to begin to charge a fee for some of the news content provided on its website. ( The report noted that only a portion of the material will be in this “walled garden” section.  Reports on local businesses and government will require a subscription while weather and public safety news will continue to be provided free.

This is not the first online news reporting to embrace the subscription model.  The Wall Street Journal has, from the very outset of online publishing, required a fee to read the complete daily paper.  About 18 months ago the Enquirer adopted a pay as you read model.  For some these changes may be irritating.  Nobody likes to pay for something that was free. 

A closer look however might change your mind.  A cursory glance at news reporting available online will show clearly that a large portion of the solid, credible and complete reporting is still being done by professionals associated with bona fide newspapers and broadcast news organizations.  In many cases the Internet is only a wonderful aggregator of material produced and paid for by others. 

When the internet was only a minor player in our daily lives this was not a problem.  In fact, newspapers and other major broadcast news operations were delighted with the publicity and the extended reach provided by the online exposure.  As more and more of us moved away from paying for the ink and paper version dropped on our driveways everyday, the newspapers’ revenues plummeted.  Today the viewership of major TV network newscasts is a fraction of what it was and as such there has been a precipitous drop in advertising revenue.

Look for more news websites to begin charging.  While citizen journalists and twitter and Facebook reports can provide information quickly and from places inaccessible by traditional media, having trained articulate journalists also part of our news diet is critical.  Paying a modest fee toward the cost of professional newsgathering is a small price to pay for maintaining an informed electorate that is absolutely imperative for a vital democracy.


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