All the news that’s fit to (please insert coin)

Brian
Brian Jones
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Some people won’t read today’s column because they’ve said goodbye, perhaps even good riddance, to St. John’s best daily newspaper, due to The Telegram’s new policy that requires non-
subscribers to pay to peruse its website (beyond six free articles per month).

The outraged tone of some objectors made me wonder whether Telegram editors had sent off-duty reporters to throw snow onto their recently cleared driveways.

Some people’s lack of compassion is astounding. If the newspaper industry is truly dying, as some online readers pointed out with mocking satisfaction, it seems heartless to yell at it during its fatal demise.

Ah yes, the dying newspaper industry.

Four centuries of noble tradition slowly but surely being killed by technology. It must be true, because even some newspaper owners say so, usually when they need to justify another round of layoffs or cuts.

But bosses don’t always know best. (This might come as a shock to many people in other lines of work.)

In the journalism world, the people who run things were as enamoured as everyone else when the Internet hit the wires.

They quickly jumped on the runaway bandwagon, embraced the new technology, applauded the “way of the future” and established websites.

If my memory is correct, the Internet was about nine minutes old when I first heard a newspaper reporter mutter, “Why are we giving away our content for free?”

It took well over a decade for that sentiment to seep up the journalistic pyramid to those in charge.

A few years ago, The New York Times announced it would start charging for access to its website. Other newspapers followed, using the rationale that news, like widgets, has value, and giving away your product for free is a doomed business model.

Obviously, The New York Times isn’t in the same league as The Telegram, but the basic principle is applicable to all newspapers regardless of their size, circulation or city.

Let freedom ring

The most common complaint about paying for access to newspaper websites is that the Internet is free and everything on it should be free.

Similar arguments were made some years ago when downloading music from Napster and other sites became more popular than breaking into record stores, although it essentially amounted to the same thing.

Some people were so enthralled by the wondrous electronic technology and what it could do that they thought it trumped minor impediments such as copyright and ownership laws.

The most laughable, but often used, argument in favour of stealing music was, “They’re all millionaires anyway.”

Court rulings put a decisive end to Napster’s thievery, and acknowledged that those who create something of value retain ownership of it, even if electronic technology makes it easy to obtain it or copy it.

Most rock stars are more popular, and richer, than your average daily newspaper. But again, similar principles apply.

The Internet is indeed amazing, but just because something can be done on it doesn’t mean it should be done.

When The Telegram announced this week that its website would henceforth have a pay meter, some online objectors gleefully pronounced, “Bye. I’ll just go get my free news somewhere else.”

OK. See you. Don’t slam the door on your way out. Oh, by the way, you didn’t even tell us your name.

It may yet come to pass in the near or medium future that the last newspaper will indeed roll off the presses, which will then go silent in favour of all-online news. That day won’t be anything to celebrate.

 

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at bjones@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: The Telegram, New York Times, Napster

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Recent comments

  • picky
    April 04, 2014 - 14:09

    If you say that The Telegram is the best St. John's daily newspaper, then you should have no problem attracting businesses to advertise more in your paper. If more businesses advertise, thus increasing your revenue and no need to charge for your duplicate news reports

  • D
    April 04, 2014 - 11:32

    Napster is a poor choice as an example. While it did provide free access to a product, it did so in an illegal way (as you mentioned in your article). But me going to many other sources and reading the articles for free is not illegal so you can't really compare the two. It all comes down to the value provided by your site. For me, and I suspect many people who have objected to the change, aside from the news headlines that I can already get from other organizations, there is no value add provided by the Telegram. That is why I won't be paying for access to your site. And to simply dismiss those readers who do decide to get their news from an alternative source may not be the best way to approach this either, as you may need those readers in the future should your paywall experiment not go the way you would like it to.

  • Yesby
    April 04, 2014 - 10:34

    This will be my last comment and visit to here. With so many other sources of news around, it is just not worth paying for duplicate content on another. As one stated earlier, I gave up getting the paper a long time ago, due to those &$*% go bags littering my yard. The telegram site was just 'another news site to visit' on my daily routine. This routine is very dynamic, and changes daily. I won't miss it in my bookmarks tab. I'll just get my news on one of the other umpteen sources around. Good luck with your paywall. yesby

  • Mongo
    April 04, 2014 - 09:37

    I get my news from a combination of CBC, BBC, The Guardian, Irish Times, Globe and Mail, National Post, NYT, Washington Post, Calgary Herald, Vancouver Sun, The Star, Huffington Post, VOCM, NTV, etc and yes, The Telegram. I like my news to be factual and non-partisan and the opinion and editorials to come from a wide range on the political spectrum. If I had to pay $9 per month for each of these sources it would quickly add up. If I had to choose just one or two, it would not include The Telegram. You need a shake-up in your editorial line-up, but that is another issue. Because of the way that I and most others get news these days, I don’t really think the business model of each outlet charging $9 or more per month is sustainable, except for the cream of the crop. If it was music, its like saying “you pay $9 a month but you can only listen to Bryan Adams – but as much as you want”. I think the Netflix model would be more appropriate. I would be willing to pay say $30 a month for a basket of news and opinion from various outlets – local, national and international. Best of luck with the new model. Whether unfair or not, the modern reality is that you probably need to really up your game to make it work.

  • Too Funny
    April 04, 2014 - 08:01

    "The People's Paper", well, not anymore. "St. John’s best daily newspaper", of course it is because it's the only daily newspaper. Why are people upset? Well, it's because we feel like we're dealing with a drug dealer; "the first one is free". And once we got you then we start charging. Problem is, a lot of the stories are reproductions from other news media which people may be able to access for free. Not to mention people have already found ways around the 6 story limit. And was it ever free, of course not, just take a look at the targeted advertising on this page - someone is paying.

  • Barney
    April 04, 2014 - 07:15

    and i bet that's the same attitude you used when all that staff was recently laid off - see you don't let the door slam you on the way out..............your paper is gone to the dogs regardless if it's free or not - sure the weekend paper is a lost cause altogether today. I read the NYTimes online all the time and I don't pay for it, just an FYI.

  • T
    April 03, 2014 - 18:53

    I won't be paying to read the telegram online. No hard feelings, not dead set against it, just not a big fan of paying online. I'll still buy the occasional weekend telegram when I have time to read it. But with the news widely available, the incentive's just not there to pay online.

  • JackieM
    April 03, 2014 - 18:32

    Here is one example of why I refuse to pay for the Telegram: "The most laughable, but often used, argument in favour of stealing music was, They’re all millionaires anyway.” A little bit of investigation (even a google search) will demonstrate that the debates surrounding file sharing are much more complex then this. Why should I pay for the Telegram, when they print such ill-informed statements as this? I expect more from journalists than overly simplistic, ungrounded statements. If you want me to pay, then you need to put in the work to make a product worth paying for.

    • Virginia Waters
      April 04, 2014 - 10:28

      @Jackie I think you need to take another look at your excerpt from Jones' column. He did not say this was the only or even the most common excuse - but that it was common and that it was the most laughable. I think we have all heard that kind of rationalization for what some consider an infringement of copyright. And yes it is laughable. Exxon is perhaps the largest and among the most profitable in the world, but we probably not use that as an excuse for stealing gas. Frankly I think there are flaws in Mr. Jones' logic, but that isn't one of them. It is not a news story. It is a perspective - one that understandably reflects the interests of an occupation threatened by technological change.

    • Merc
      April 04, 2014 - 11:31

      Today's telegram story: promoting 9/11 conspiracy theories… Sorry Brian - unless the Telegram starts publishing journalism, instead of promoting stupidity and gossip, why should we bother to keep it afloat? I think the MUSE at MUN is more investigative than the telegram - and that is saying something!

    • @Virginia
      April 04, 2014 - 11:37

      Anyone can write an uninformed opinion. If you want me to pay to read it however, you better work a little harder and inform yourself on your topic - otherwise its just regurgitated gossip. Of course, this is the model of many popular American conservative news sources these days - the Telegram is is taking part in the race to the bottom here.

  • James
    April 03, 2014 - 18:26

    I stopped subscribing to the Telegram when they refused to stop littering my house, my street, my neighbourhood with "Go-Bags" every week. To pretend to be supportive of community while distributing garbage and advertising trash… I try to avoid giving any money to any companies that show such disrespect for their customers and our city. Clean up your act, and maybe I'll come back. Otherwise, good riddins to bad rubbish.