Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Free online news era on its way out

  • By Howard Kurtz, CNN
December 10, 2012 
The era of free online news is coming to an end as newsgathering operations slip behind the paywall, Howard Kurtz says.
The era of free online news is coming to an end as newsgathering operations slip behind the paywall, Howard Kurtz says.

  • Howard Kurtz: Washington Post, other news outlets, may soon charge for online access
  • He says news organizations erred in giving news away free for so long to keep up
  • He says Post needs revenue but digital ads don' t bring as much as those from print circulation
  • Kurtz: News organizations' cuts have diminished newsgathering -- it's time to pay for journalism
Editor's note: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and is Newsweek's Washington bureau chief. He is also a contributor to the website Daily Download.
(CNN) -- It's time to pay up, America.

The era of free news is rapidly coming to a close.
The Washington Post, one of the last holdouts among major newspapers, will probably begin charging for online access next year. And the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News announced Monday that they will launch separate paywall sites early next year.
We're all spoiled by the illusion that we can get whatever we want on the interwebs without having to pay a dime. Fire up the Google, troll the Twitter, see who's got the most tantalizing links. We all do it, and we all take it for granted.

Howard Kurtz
Howard Kurtz

But you can't have a media ecosystem in which everyone is aggregating, summarizing and retweeting content from everyone else. At some point there have to be actual human beings making phone calls and attending events and pawing through public documents.
And these people -- known as "reporters" -- need to put food on the table. Newspapers and magazines are partially to blame for this state of affairs. For many years they gave away their wares to anyone with a modem, anxious to avoid being left out of the burgeoning world of online commerce. Readers thought nothing of subscribing to a paper that landed on their doorstep but balked at paying for news on their computer screens and mobile phones.
The result, as we all know, has been widespread carnage in American newsrooms. Some papers, such as the Rocky Mountain News and Seattle Post-Intelligencer, have folded. Others, such as The New Orleans Times-Picayune, have cut back to three times a week. The Cleveland Plain Dealer just announced it is slashing a third of its newsroom. Even The New York Times, which has made fewer cuts than most papers, said last week that 30 jobs will be lost to buyouts.

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