This article was published on December 1, 2009

How Johnston Press Could Pave The Way For Paywalls

How Johnston Press Could Pave The Way For Paywalls
Elizabeth Fish
Story by

Elizabeth Fish

Elizabeth Fish is based in Lincoln, UK. Currently studying a degree in Journalism, and has a passion for writing. Writing interests include Elizabeth Fish is based in Lincoln, UK. Currently studying a degree in Journalism, and has a passion for writing. Writing interests include social networking and Apple, as well as Entertainment. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

rupertmurdochJohnston Press- one of the major newspaper publishers in the UK- have confirmed that they shall be testing out the controversial paywall scheme by next Monday.

Six of their newspaper’s websites shall take part in the experiment to trial the success of the movement. The chosen papers being the Worksop Guardian, Ripley & Heanor News, the Whitby Gazette, the Northumberland Gazette and two Scottish publications, the Carrick Gazette and the Southern Reporter. Readers will not be allowed past the homepage without paying a £5 subscription for three months (around 40p per week).

Johnston Press’ decision comes right after Rupert Murdoch’s announcement that all News Corporation websites shall have a paywall, as well as the possibility of being removed from search engines, by next summer. Murdoch is sure to be pleased in that case, as he was quoted believing that if News Corp erect the paywall scheme successfully, others are bound to follow.

The argument for and against the paywall scheme has so far proved a complicated one, with many positive outcomes for both sides. I myself, have found it difficult to decide between the two arguments, as both a budding  journalist and avid internet user, preferring to read news online.

The journalist half believes that maybe a paywall would not such be a bad thing- at least, for journalists and other news contributers. As Tim Luckhurst from The Guardian pointed out, since the removal of stamp duty on newspapers in 1855, pushing up the value of newspapers, trained reporters were hired in place of the ametuers to compete with the rising numbers of publications out there. The same competetive streak still exists in the now declining newspaper market. However, the difference now is that the hard work done by journalists isn’t just accessed by paying for a paper- it can be accessed for free online. In essecence, why would any journalist want their hard work given away for free?

Quoting Murdoch: “Quality journalism is not cheap, and an industry that gives away its content is simply cannibalising its ability to produce good reporting.”

In addition, we have become a nation (Credit Crunch or not) who strive for the best deal. If all publishers were to follow Johnston Press’ subscription price guide, it works out cheaper in a week to read all the news a reader desires, 24/7, for less than the cost of one edition of a newspaper in a week.

However, the online news reader in me feels the above is argument in itself against paywalling. First off, the price is extremely low. Therefore, this would be a good way for Murdoch to kill his print editions of newspapers outright- why pay 30p per day for The Sun when it could be bought for (possibly) around 40p per week? This is backwards logic at its finest. The internet is not the solution to saving the newspapers. Plus, at a £3 subscription, quality journalism clearly is cheap.

Removing news from search engines is again another ridiculous idea if publishers are trying to encourage readers- especially paying ones. Sometimes people can find what they were looking for on a search engine through a news site, and any other additional research. Limiting reader to just Bing may be difficult, as surveys suggest that Google is still more popular than Bing (although this could of course change, Bing is still new).  More often than not breaking news is now found on the internet- this will no longer be available through Murdoch’s scheme.

Through limiting news sites on search engines, Murdoch is playing into the hands of sites like Twitter or blogs, such as The Next Web. Breaking news is that bit more likely to be covered by blogs (with both trained and untrained journalists), allowing them to get more traffic, not news sites with paywalls.

Plus, people like to have choice- like in print- of  which publication they like to read. Taking the choices away from seach engines like Google News will discourage readers from signing up, especially if they can’t read past the homepage.

In essence, although the paywall scheme may point to a strange idea, given the state of newspapers it’s meant to be defending and the amount of good news blogs out there, we could all learn something through the way Johnston Press trial them. Paywalls could save the quality of journalism and save money for the reader, or destroy newspapers and turn away traffic to the sites in high amounts. I for one look forward to Johnston Press’ finding. Though whatever the outcome publishers, please do not limit news websites on search engines….

Get the TNW newsletter

Get the most important tech news in your inbox each week.