Why We Should Pay for Online News

You had to know this was coming.

This story in yesterday’s New York Times says that a number of major media outlets that up to now have been giving content away for free online are now considering following in the footsteps of the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times by charging some type of fee.

Like everyone else, I’d prefer to have unlimited free online access. Who wouldn’t? I’d also like free health care, free food, no mortgage, and throw in a Ferrari at no cost while you’re at it.

But unless we’re ready to have news sources be publicly funded (and we’re clearly, absolutely, unambiguously, and positively not), we have to admit that free online access can’t and won’t go on forever. With advertisers unwilling to commit the same amount of cash as they have in the past, someone has to provide the resources for this service to continue to be provided. I’d prefer that this be me.

Here’s why:

1. I have always paid for subscriptions to newspapers and magazines because I valued the content. Even when I was earning much less than I do today, I was willing to pay for news and information. Why should I get it for free now just because the delivery system has changed? You don’t want it; you don’t have to pay for it.

2. Here’s why I’m not a big fan of a strict advertising model for news.

A local “newspaper” in my area is delivered free to my home every week or so. I put the word newspaper in quotes because, although it purports to be independent, because it relies on advertising for its revenue, it’s really nothing more than a brochure for the local real estate industry. I’m guessing, but it seems like about 90 percent of the ads in this rag are from real estate agents. As a result, the headlines and leads for “news” stories about the local economy, especially those dealing with home sales and interest rates, are almost always very upbeat and extremely positive even when the data being reported doesn’t justify it. And there’s at least one “story” in each issue about a home for sale that is made to look as if it’s news even though it’s really a full-page advertisement.

We have all complained about the same thing in other situations. For example, major newspapers are frequently accused of kowtowing to a big advertiser in their coverage. Programming on television is often determined by whether there are sponsors for particular shows. Credit rating agencies are heavily criticized for giving too high of a rating to mortgage backed securities because the fee was being paid by the issuer. Audits of public companies were criticized because the company being audited was he one that hired and paid the accounting firm. And until Sarbanes-Oxley changed the practice, Wall Street firms were often paid in some way by the companies they were analyzing.

3. I like the idea that that a market could exist for news with outlets trying to appeal to consumers rather than advertisers for revenues.4. I also like the idea that, with modern technology, there may be a way for me only to to pay for the content I want to read or see similar to what I do now with the cable TV package I buy.

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About Stan Collender 126 Articles

Affiliation: Qorvis Communications

Stan Collender is a former New Yorker who, after getting a degree from the University of California, Berkeley, moved to Washington to get it out of his system. That was more than 30 years ago.

During most of his career, Collender has worked on the federal budget and congressional budget process, including stints on the staff of the House and Senate Budget Committees; founding the Federal Budget Report, a newsletter that was published for almost two decades; and for the past 11 years writing a weekly column for NationalJournal.com and now RollCall.com.

He is currently a managing director for Qorvis Communications, where he spends most of his time working with and for financial services clients.

Visit: Capital Gains and Games

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