In Defense of Paywalls
by Dino Corvino on July 8th, 2012
The cost of the online edition of the Wausau Daily Herald went up. It was at zero, and it ended up higher than zero. So, it went up. The online uproar was, well, muted. The only place I saw any sort of reaction was the on air hosts from Midwest Communications mocking the paywall, and trumpeting their own online news being free. They told the truth, it is free. If you go there today, to any of them, at this moment is the same wire story about the Planned Parenthood trial starting tomorrow. And the story is free. And the story is uncredited, so we have no idea who wrote it.
Now, if you go to the Wausau Daily Herald site you will find lots of stories. None of them mention the Planned Parenthood story, and 90 percent of them are bylined by someone from the Wausau Daily Herald. I believe this is local news gathering.
I support the paywall. I also support journalism for the public good, as a true resource that is important to a local community. I believe that we have a right to good and accurate reporting of stories. I believe that if more journalists were Murrow on the rooftop during the London blitz we would be better off.
But, that sort of presupposes that there is a lot to report, you know like a World War. Sometimes in small town America there is not really an air raid happening. Sometimes, well, nothing happens.
But, like public transit, I think that Wausau is large enough to have a daily news gathering machine. Now, don’t get me wrong. 550 AM has one reporter, Raymond, and Raymond does a great job gathering news every day. But, Ray is a single person and is bound by the space time continuum, and as a result, cannot be in more than one place at one time. And, a day is the same 24 hours for Ray as it is for you.
The television stations are expanding. Both Channel 9 and 7 have expanded their online news delivery, their gathering tools, and their presence over all. They have moved past the 6 and 10 programming and offer more programming throughout the day. Both have great morning programs that I like very much. And they manage to do it for free. Sort of.
You see, while they do offer the news for free, they also have syndicated and network programming through which they make advertising dollars to support stations operations. They have Seinfeld or Baywatch reruns; they can sell advertising to those, and that money goes in the stations’ coffers.
The newspaper does not offer Baywatch or any syndicated programming. So, their advertising dollars are capped as to what can be sold per inch, per day. I am sure it is a lot, but it is capped.
I support the paywall, and I subscribe to the paper online because I like to read the newspaper. I am fan of writers writing, especially daily writing. I support the paywall because it will keep the newspaper alive, even if just for a little longer.
Sure, I have a Kindle, and iphone, and online access. So, if like many other papers, the newspaper disappears from print, I will be able to get it. But, what of Joe McGrath. I do not anticipate the civic warrior being online with his Galaxy Nexus, looking at the WDH app. I just do not think that is going to happen.
I believe in the public trust that newspapers have, the same way I believe in the public trust that radio stations have. Journalism is a higher calling. They make very little money, they work so very hard, and everyone hates them.
The right wing in this country calls them the lame stream media. The left calls them shills for their corporate overlord. The accountants say that the staff is an unwanted cash liability.
And the minute they are gone, all those who were complaining about price will point at the company and say that they were just in it for the money, even though these are the same people who were mad they were asked to pay.
So, they just cannot win.
The reality is journalism is a job, a career and a craft. You have to seek it out. It is not the calling of a minister or the choice to be a priest. These people, these journalists are the eyes and ears of the community, and as such deserve to be able to buy a ham sandwich.
Susan Firer was a college professor of mine. She taught me that poets are the diviners of the world. That by looking at something, and writing about it, the poet makes it divine. I think of the poem ‘Burning the Christmas Greens’ by William Carlos Williams. We did not think of the tree that way, not until the poet gazed upon it.
And we do not see the local government the same way before until after the newspaper puts it in some form of perspective. We do not see the faith healing case the same way until there is the amount of reporting we saw.
Journalists are the record keepers, the watchdogs, the front lines of our cultural battle. They point like a hunting dog at the thing that is happening, and when it is great journalism, they let us know what is happening, and then we can decide what we want to do or feel about it.
Journalists are important. And I think that the ability to be financially sustainable is important. We need the news, because now more than ever, we are confronted with a tidal wave of information. We need something strong to sift through it.