It’s grievous what is happening to regional newspapers, especially. But the whole industry will continue to collapse until everyone swallows hard and goes behind a paywall. The New York Times has shown us the end of the beginning; they’ve embraced the paywall and they are seeing significant revenue. The Washington Post, LA Times, others have to follow. Once the content of the larger papers is no longer available to aggregators, then regional papers can safely take that same path and, maybe, there is an online revenue stream that will allow high-end journalism to survive.
Short of that, the great Molly Ivins is right, this is nothing more than slow suicide.
That newspaper executives listened to the mavens of new technology and decided to give away their content and copyright without securing a revenue stream is incredible enough. That they continue to do so amid this collapse is just astonishing, especially since The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Financial Times are showing us a plausible future.
Folks who decry the idea of subscriber fees argue that paywalls won’t work, and that those who advocate for them, don’t understand the Internet. The opposite is true. These folks don’t understand the first thing about actual journalism. It costs money to cover a metro region, or a nation, or the world comprehensively, to place reporters at key points and maintain them while they cover a beat and glean information year after year. Anyone who still thinks that this can be achieved by amateurs or hobbyists are embarrassing themselves. It hasn’t happened in a consistent fashion anywhere, and it won’t happen anywhere. Journalism is a profession; it requires careers, and careers require a living wage, and until newspapers recover a revenue stream for their online product, they have no future.
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