News broke this week that Rupert Murdoch plans to charge for access to all his newspaper websites within the next year.
The News International mogul, who owns a wide range of newspapers around the world from the highbrow Wall Street Journal to the mass-market Sun, has declared that “Quality journalism costs money” and that the days of free access to news sites needs to be over if the long-term future of news organisations is to be guaranteed.
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The Guardian reports that the testing ground for this new approach will be Britain’s The Times and Sunday Times titles. They will disappear behind a paywall from November this year with Murdoch’s other UK titles following by June 2010. While the details of pricing have yet to be revealed, two things are clear:
- Traditional news organisations definitely need charge for content if they are to survive. Charging for a paper version when people can read the same stories for free online isn’t going to work in the long-term.
- When news organisations start charging they’re doomed. People are so used to getting news online for free that they’ll simply move elsewhere to get their news.
So, it’s a case of ‘Work for free and die’ or ‘Charge and probably die’. Given the choice, Murdoch has opted to at least try to survive. With Murdoch taking the lead, other news organisations will probably follow suit and disappear behind paywalls too. Some outlets, like BBC News are funded in a way that will allow them to continue to be free but they can’t provide the wide range of stories and perspectives that access to every news site offers.
If most traditional news sources start charging, where will we all get our news? Sure, some people will pay but the great thing about online news is that it can be shared easily. Paywalls kill that sharing as only people fellow subscribers will be able to read the shared stories. We can only hope for his sake that Murdoch realises this and has allowed for some sharing of news. After all, how are we supposed to know if something is worth paying for if we only have a headline?
The upshot of this huge change is that the role of blogger will be increasingly important. Disseminating and discussing current affairs news is an important role for bloggers already. All it will take is for a handful of bloggers to buy subscriptions to news sites, rehash the news in their own posts and then no-one else will need to bother paying for the news.
Then there are all the journalists who have been made redundant from cost-cutting news organisations. Many of them will use their new-found independence and professional skills to seek out stories without the need for a corporate paymaster. Initiatives like the Huffington Post Investigative Fund will help foot the bill for original investigative journalism outside traditional news organisations.
In short – while traditional newsmakers are at death’s door the future’s rosy for bloggers and independent media.