The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Staff Editorial: Students Should not Have to Pay for Paper Content

3 min read

The New York Times recently announced that effective January 2011, their online content will no longer be available, free of charge, to the reading public.  For those of us Ramen-budgeted college students who prefer their journalism to come with a side of serious professionalism, this is catastrophic news.

Whatever works for the New York Times—the bastion of professional journalism—is likely to become the industry standard.   If the Times makes this model profitable, it’s not a stretch to imagine most other online institutions following suit to the point where, by the time you graduate, jobless and broke, the only place left to get free news might be the Bullet.

And as earth-shattering and hard-hitting as the Bullet’s coverage of UMW might be, it’s not going to make you a more informed citizen of the “real world.”

One of the greatest advantages of the most recent hyper-connected decade has been the abundance of quality journalism available for free at our fingertips.  We may be spoiled consumers, but at least we’re informed.

However, once newspapers start requiring our spoiled demographic to pony up a few bucks to access their online content, we as students are going to have to take a serious look at how much we value high-quality professional journalism.

We don’t think twice about paying for subscriptions to Netflix or girly magazines, but when we’re asked to put a price on the latest in-depth investigative report on the health care bill—well, we can always just click the next link on Google.

And that will become the problem.

Instead of getting the news from a reputable publication, we’ll get it rehashed by the faceless and wholly unaccountable blogosphere.  Or, even worse, what’s to stop a resourceful news pirate from paying for the content, reposting it elsewhere, and reaping the ad revenue from cash-strapped consumers in search of free content?

If record companies have learned anything over the course of their decade-long demise, it’s that if there’s a demand for free product, someone is going to meet that demand, regardless of the legal consequences.  It wasn’t until Apple developed an innovative method for reaching consumers via iTunes that record companies could finally exhale from the pressure of peer-to-peer file sharing networks.
No one’s disputing that the business side of the journalism industry is in serious need of an overhaul, but we remain skeptical that the hierarchical payment model that the Times is proposing—basically, the more you pay per year, the more you get—is the answer.

Granted, the Wall Street Journal has remained profitable with a similar model, but its primary demographic is consumers with money who need the Journal’s content to help them make more money.

Outsell, a research group, reported last week that only 6 percent of American online readers would be willing to pay for online journalism.  Here at the Bullet, we’re willing to bet our combined EagleOne balance of $8 that most college students account for none of that percentage.

And until someone proposes a model that makes sense, it’s likely to stay that way.