Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and now the New York Times have publically announced plans to make readers pay for online content, but not everybody is following suit…not yet, anyway. Alan Rusbridger, editor of the popular English daily newspaper The Guardian, has been most vocal about his paper’s intention to continue providing its online content for free. Yesterday Rusbridger gave reasons both ideal and practical in defense of free online content.
The most practical reason is money. Online news has given visible companies like The Guardian and The New York Times unprecedented advertising revenue. Free online content brings tens of millions of people to major news websites each month and advertisers are given access to all these people for a fee. It’s second only to telepathic advertising or placing computer chips in people’s brains. Rusbridger is not yet ready to declare that advertising revenue didn’t work for the newspaper industry. He thinks that making people pay for news will reduce the number of readers and therefore advertising revenue.
If you think about journalism, not business models, you can become rather excited about the future. If you only think about business models you can scare yourself into total paralysis.
When Rusbridger said this he was being more idealistic. He thinks by putting content behind a wall which people must pay to access, a “paywall”, news publishers are sending the wrong message to the Universe. Paywalls may make good business sense, but they don’t make good editorial sense in a world where information exists on an unrestricted global network. A newspaper that puts its content behind a paywall is turning its back on the Zeitgeist.
But does journalism even exist anymore? Is there even such an industry? No, at least not in the same way that many of us still think about journalism. Whereas the journalist once carried the same authority as a doctor or an artist, post-modern communication allows anyone to make things that look like journalism and make them available to millions of people. Rusbridger calls this the “authority vs. involvement” dispute.
But even Rusbridger admits that if a paywall works, The Guardian can’t resist it forever.