This week, Perugia, Italy hosts the fifth annual International Journalism Festival, a free, week-long gathering of writers, editors, hackers, academics, and others from around the world. One panel on Wednesday, called “The News Frontier: engaging the community,” discussed the topic of online paywalls and subscription schemes, and how they can affect a site’s relationship with its readers.
When an audience member asked whether paywalls were necessarily incompatible with community engagement, the panelists said that they were not: for instance, even if online content got fewer comments behind a wall, those comments may be of higher quality, and therefore more inspiring for further reader involvement.
The panel was led by CJR’s own managing web editor, Justin Peters, who made the distinction that subscriptions don’t necessarily hinder engagement—rather, they inspire a different kind of engagement. “At a private club, membership is restricted, so there are less people there, but you could say that they feel more connected to each other and to the club. The quality of the interactions and ties that are forged are stronger.” He added, “The bet is, does anyone want to join the club? Is it sustainable?”