And when you remove the expensive stuff from the equation, the rest is very cheap to produce. And in any metro market, it’s plentiful from a variety of sources.
In our conversation, I mentioned one such source of inexpensive news: TV news. David Simon immediately belittled TV news, as any diehard print journalist would.
Outside of the fact that his position is insulting to a lot of good broadcast journalists, it totally misses the point of discussing competition from free TV websites.

Then you contend that there are websites in metro areas that approximate the reach and depth of print journalism, and you actually cite TV news sites. I’ve read those sites. Been reading them for years in a variety of metro regions. Mr. Owens, please. Fully 75 percent of their content is AP- or Reuters-fed regurgitations of WHAT WAS PRINTED IN THE METRO DAILY a news cycle earlier and now has been aggregated and synthesized by wire services.

Which prompted me to visit the first TV station website I found in Simon’s beloved Baltimore, which turned out to be WBAL. Of the 10 local news stories I checked, 10 were original reporting by WBAL staff.

In my experience that level of news coverage is common. In a metro market, take three to five good-enough TV news stations (especially if one of them is better than just good), and the intelligent news consumer has options for free news.

And while a metro newspaper might lock away its best stuff behind a paywall, and getting the scoop is nice, there’s nothing preventing other news organizations from re-reporting (and I mean re-reporting) the paper’s story, and properly implemented fair use would allow other news sites and blogs to cite and credit the newspaper report. If newspapers follow the New York Times model, this sort of aggregation is explicitly allowed.

Other local news outlets don’t need to duplicate the mission and expense of high-purpose newspaper journalism to take a bite out of the digital paywall; they just need to divert the part of the audience — which is the bulk of the audience — that just wants a quick local-new fix.

7. The barrier to entry for producing local news is quite low in the Digital Age.

Of course, this is an area where my expertise is firsthand. It’s what I do every day—produce quick-and-easy local news for a ravenous local audience.
Some of the anonymous commenters in the CJR conversation took a look at The Batavian and belittled what I do, which is fine with me. They’re not our intended audience. We’re not trying to be a substitute for big, expensive journalism (though we’ve done a few enterprise and investigative pieces (examples here, here, and here).

Meanwhile, doing what we do, we’ve become the news source that everybody in town reads and have convinced some 130 local businesses to support by assigning to us a portion of their advertising budget. Perhaps the Church of Journalism folk will continue to sneer at this level of success, but I think it’s pretty good, and shows what can be done with the right combination of a free CMS, cheap hosting, hard work, and a content strategy that appeals to a local audience.

The real model, however, that should scare paywall publishers is Newzjunky.com. This Watertown, NY-based site put one paid-content site in its grave in 2008.

The scenario went like this: The Watertown Daily Times erected a paywall. A former employee started an aggregation site much along the lines of The Drudge Report. By 2008, his site was dominating online traffic and online advertising for the Watertown coverage area. The Daily Times was forced to drop its paywall to compete. (By all appearances it has come a long way and now competes very well as a non-subscriber site; an executive with the Johnson Newspapers, the paper’s parent company, has said on Twitter that it has no intention of changing its current strategy).

Howard Owens is publisher of The Batavian, an online-only news site serving Genesee County, NY. He has been an online executive with the Ventura County Star, Bakersfield Californian and GateHouse Media.