Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pay walls coming

They said they were going to do it, and now it's official.

MediaNews Chairman Dean Singleton announced yesterday that the company would begin implementing a "pay wall" at two MediaNews Web sites.

Initially, only the Chico Enterprise-Record and the York Daily Record will see portion of online content restricted to paying customers, but according to Editor & Publisher, the plan may spread to other properties if successful. The Chico Enterprise-Record is located in Chico, Ca., and has a circulation of 27,000. The York Daily Record is in York, Pennsylvania and has a circulation of 55,000. MediaNews says the sites were chosen because of the size of their respective markets.

"We wanted to get sites that were not metro sites for the same reason that you don't open on Broadway," said Howard Saltz, vice president for content development. "But not a site that has Web traffic so small that the change would not affect anything."

Saltz said more sites, including MediaNews Group's larger papers such as The Denver Post and San Jose Mercury News, would likely add a pay wall approach if the York and Chico efforts prove successful: "We are going to be rolling out for the next two years."

Despite the near-inevitable public mutiny awaiting the decision, MediaNews' plan cuts to the heart of the online conundrum. In an environment where advertising is so grossly undervalued, how does a newspaper get paid for the content it produces? Their solution isn't what matters, what MediaNews is trying is an assertion that real journalism isn't cheap, and it isn't easy to produce. Even after being slashed beyond comprehension by layoffs and cutbacks, most daily newspapers still have no peer when it comes to the scope and quality of the news they produce each day. The question is whether or not anyone cares...and perhaps more importantly, will anyone pay for it.

What do you think?