BY CHRISTINE HOGAN
Recently, I have received an anguished demand from a reader. The message was clear – do not aggregate any stories which are hidden behind electronic paywalls, he urged.
Another, referring to Greg Sheridan’s piece in The Australian following the Cardinal Pell vs Professor Dawkins “debate” on ABC TV’s Q & A wrote plaintively: “The paywall prevents you from reading it...”
Wikipedia defines a paywall as “a system that prevents Internet users from accessing webpage content (most notably news content and scholarly publications) without a paid subscription”.
It says there are both “hard” and “soft” paywalls in use. “Hard” paywalls allow minimal to no access to content without subscription, while “soft” paywalls allow more flexibility in what users can view without subscribing. Newspapers have been implementing paywalls on their websites to increase their revenue which has been diminishing due to a decline in print subscriptions and advertising revenue.
The first reader above gave an interesting direction given that, here at CathNews, the editors and I have been considering for more than two years the impact of paywalls on the services which we can deliver to our subscribers (God bless you all!) and our readers (no less valuable to us) every weekday morning and on Friday afternoons now for free.
The big media companies have been considering for an even longer period how to “monetise” their digital newspapers. One can only imagine the increasing frustration of Rupert Murdoch as he saw his content being drawn down by cyberspace readers who paid not a penny, cent, yen, euro or RMB, for the privilege. There would have been gnashing of teeth from Wapping to Surry Hills.
Over the past decade, we have all become accustomed to having prime content for free at the tap of a keystroke or two. Indeed, I would regularly trawl through The New Yorker (thanks to the Newhouses, who must also have been grinding their teeth, too, as revenue fled from hard copy print to on line and there was initially no mechanism to capture it), The Washington Post, The New York Times and papers of similar international reputation, forcirc a world-wide, web-eye view.
When Church Resources set up the CathNews service in 1999, it was planned to be always a free service. There will be no deviation from that. Both CathNews and CathNews Perspectives are supported by the organisation and by our advertisers.
But there might be publications from which we must aggregate from to fulfil our remit which erect firewalls to protect their intellectual copyright – to remind you, it is to report on the Church and Catholics from at home and around the world. To ignore a big, exclusive story in The Australian for instance, because it is behind a paywall would not be in keeping with our mission. We aggregate – point to the story, and provide a link – and allow readers to decide whether or not they want to subscribe to access the restricted material.
The problem for the media company owners and the stockholders was – and is still, to a certain extent – that no one in cyber space wanted to pay for good quality journalism. Why would they, indeed, when most of the sites were all available for free?
It was a difficult thing to manage – The New York Times took itself behind a paywall for some of its most favoured Op Ed writers – and had to come back out because things just were not working out for theeim. (They are back behind it again and urging their casual trawlers to subscribe by offering them, like cyberspace drug pushers, the first 10 hits a month for free.)
At the same time as the publishers were seeing their circulations plummet and internet usage rise, two other phenomena was gathering speed – the citizen journalist and the ubiquitous blogger. Sometimes untrained, always opinionated, their ascent was an echo of the inflation of another source of "news" ... the extremist commentator (sometimes known as a “bloviator” in US tabloid parlance).
These extreme commentators – mostly from the Right – have affected news and how we consume it – as former Prime Ministerial hack Lachlan Harris pointed out. The news cycle was out, the opinion cycle was in – something which was manifestly wrong could lead talk back every morning until by 9 am it was proven to be a furphy and abandoned.
What all of this means is that we are in the middle of a rapidly changing media landscape; ways to access and transmit information multiply by the months. It comes at us all day every day – from RSS feeds, tweets, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn... whatever... but in the end, you have to decide what you really want to read.
Here is what I want for you – well-written, well-researched, intelligent pieces from journalists employed by major media organisations who know the difference between editorial and editorialising. And that means, in some instances, paywalls prevent the casual reader going further in the story.
It also means sometimes CathNews and CathNews Perspectives must link to stories which are behind paywalls. For me, the choice is simple – we either link to those stories (which the readers can either buy into or not) or we end up with a collection of perhaps lesser stories which do not serve either our mission, our remit, or our readers. For my part as a reader, I would rather be alerted to the existence of a major piece in The Oz or The Tablet than not, and be able to make up my own mind about where I subscribed or not.
I would be interested in hearing your views on the subject. Drop a line into the comments box if you feel strongly one way or the other. Looking forward to reading your comments.
Christine Hogan is the publisher of Church Resources.
Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate. Our bloggers express opinions which may be at variance from Church teaching and the views of Church Resources.