Reinventing the Newsroom

Tuesday Reads: Paywall Plans at the New York Times, and More

Posted in Digital Experiments, Paid Content by reinventingthenewsroom on January 19, 2010

The meta-news gods provide: While we all wait eagerly to see what the Apple tablet will look like, we get a debate over the New York Times’ apparent plans to institute some sort of paywall. (I believe Gabriel Sherman was first with the news, in New York Magazine.) But what kind of paywall? That question is taken up in smart posts by Reuters’ Felix Salmon and by Steve Outing.

I liked both posts in part because they didn’t waste my time rehashing religious wars about paid vs. free, choosing instead to take an experimental approach to the question of what kind of paywall makes sense. Salmon does all publishers a valuable service by advising them not to worry overmuch about readers who exploit loopholes. Some old-media types seem borderline obsessed with this, but Salmon sensibly notes that news organizations don’t fret overmuch about how easy it is to steal copies of the physical paper, which cost a lot more to produce and distribute. Salmon also suggests that the Times never actually lock out a reader — rather, hit them with increasing number of interstitials or some other way of encouraging payment without slamming the door completely shut.

Outing begins from the same point — both men dislike the Financial Times’s metered system — but moves from there to an excellent survey of possible ways to create revenue, from various subscription lengths to Kachingle. It’s a great starting point or reality check for news organizations pondering how to move forward.

No matter what their position on paid content, digital-news pundits all agree on the need for news organizations to experiment; these two posts reassure me there’s plenty of experimentation out there, at least for paywalls. Will one of those paths yield an answer that “saves” journalism? I doubt it — but at this early stage, salvation isn’t a realistic goal. It’s enough that we all learn things for the next iteration of experiments, and move quickly to put them in place.

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My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center proposes that news organizations stop forbidding or substantially restricting outside blogs by their writers, and instead encourage such pursuits. Why? Because, as I’ve often said, the smartest thing I ever did as a professional writer was start my own blog. The experience made me realize how important it is to think of what I do as a business, and taught me to edit myself, turning me into a columnist who was more entrepreneurial, open-minded, and wrote stronger, cleaner stuff. Properly supervised, outside blogs can channel young writers’ ambitions and help them train themselves as better journalists. In a time of shrinking budgets and business-model woes, that’s a benefit to any news organization.

3 Responses

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  1. Case Ernsting said, on January 20, 2010 at 9:34 am

    Great points here Jason. The “pay vs. free” debates have been discussed plenty. While it’s still an important issue, I’m also interested in hearing what routes industry leaders are taking. I look forward to future posts on this issue.

    I have a question about the second part of the post…kind of related. What do you recommend for essayists and feature writers. I’ve noticed that a majority of these writers don’t put blogs together, and I can only assume it’s for fear of giving away insights and perspectives that they are accustomed to selling. To each his/her own, but do you think this is a healthy mentality for authors? Journalists?

  2. reinventingthenewsroom said, on January 20, 2010 at 9:49 am

    That’s a great question. Did you read Robin Sloan on stock and flow? ( Read it this morning and mulling how it might apply to such questions….

  3. […] two early reactions to the unofficial news about the New York Times adopting a metered pay model, I wrote that such posts “reassure me there’s plenty of experimentation out there, at least for […]

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