Thursday, February 11, 2010

Newsday Charges for Online Access, Gets 35 Subscribers

The Long Island daily newspaper Newsday invested $4 million in redesigning its website and announced that they would charge a fee for online access to people not already subscribing to its print newspaper of five dollars per week. The number of people who agreed to pay the fee was thirty-five. Not thirty-five hundred or thirty-five thousand, but thirty-five.

Look people, newspapers and other for-profit media entities have a right to make money from their content. If they don't, reporters and editors will not work for free and coverage will decline in both quality and quantity. The Pew Center's recent study of Baltimore showed that 95% of original content still comes from old media, primarily newspapers, and the primary function of new media was to amplify that reporting. So neither the blogosphere, nor Twitter, nor Facebook, nor anything else will fill the gap if newspapers cannot make money.

But if newspapers want people to pay them, they have to offer a top-quality product. At the time that Newsday announced its website fee, it was cutting features, bureaus and staff. Why would their readers pay for something that is worse than what they used to get for free? If the local media continues to cut coverage and then charge for it, they might meet the same fate as Newsday.

Here's a different idea. A news entity should assemble a true all-star team of reporters, editors and columnists and pay them what they're worth. There should be no cutting corners or skimping in the pursuit of great content. The group should be kept together for six months to show the public what they can do and become indispensable, and only then could fees be charged. If the content was good - REALLY good - I would pay up. And so should you.