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 email@example.com.