Starting the 1st of November, readers of the Daily Journal, a local newspaper of Northeast Mississippi, will have to pay for the online content of the newspaper. The Daily Journal is certainly not the first newspaper to insert a paywall. It is in fact just following the flow.
Lloyd Gray, the executive editor of the Daily Journal, says “newspaper industry made a big mistake back in the late 90s by giving our product away free online. In order to sustain the level of content you’ve come to expect from the Daily Journal, readers will be asked to pay for our online content. It’s not a choice, it’s a necessity. “
The Daily Journal follows some big newspapers that already have a paywall. The Wall Street Journal was the first big newspaper that inserted a hard paywall in 1997. That means their online readers were allowed no access to content without a subscription. Nevertheless, The Wall Street Journal remained popular. This because they provided added value to their content.
Over the years, many others followed the example of The Wall Street Journal. When The Times inserted their online paywall in 2010, it was a very controversial choice. The Times is a general news site, and many believed their online readers would turn to other free sources of online news. Many readers did. They turned to The Guardian, which is one of the most popular English newspapers, and that doesn’t have a paywall.
Newspapers are forced to insert a paywall because of the decline in print subscriptions and advertising revenues. Especially the young, for whom digital is their way of life, search for information and articles on free online news sites. Sites like BostonGlobe.com and NYTimes.com have used a paywall to increase their revenue and the number of print subscribers, by offering a full package subscription. That means subscribers still get the printed newspaper, ánd they have access to the online content.
But, the use of the paywall also brings up ethical questions. News coverage needs to inform the people, and when it is put behind a paywall, people don’t have free access to information, which is contrary to the freedom of speech and democracy.
The Guardian is one of the quality newspapers that has resisted to the insertion of a paywall. “Belief in open internet and care for community” is their reason to not insert a paywall. Katharine Viner, deputy of the Guardian and editor-in-chief of Guardian Australia, stated in a lecture given in Melbourne, that “paywalls are antithetical to the open web. A paywalled website is just print in another form, making collaboration with people formerly known as the audience much more difficult. You can’t take advantage of the benefits of the open web if you’re hidden away. It’s an illusion that the future of journalism is safe behind them [paywalls], when the future of journalism is going on outside them?”
So, the conclusion? Many newspapers are forced to use paywalls. It’s not a choice, but a necessity. However, there are still so many other free news sites, will the paywall save the newspapers?