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A Disturbing Trend In Newspaper Websites


By James Donahue

January 2005


I think it started with the New York Times. About a year or two ago I noticed that the Times was requiring readers to register, then login every time they visited their website.


Even though the Times has a good reputation as a relatively accurate news source, I found myself dodging on-line stories there because of the login block, even though I am registered to visit. It still is a nuisance.


Lately, more and more major news publications throughout the United States, and possibly even overseas, are not only requiring registrations, but logins before their stories can be read  Many are now requiring readers to subscribe by agreeing to pay through credit cards for access.


All of this is apparently an effort by newspapers to glean some badly needed extra cash through their Internet sites. Newspapers charge for their services, whether it is advertising or information. But that way of thinking is out of synch with the web where a free flow of information rules.


I think I can predict with some accuracy that the ploy will not work. If the web editors at these sites are doing daily visitor counts, they are noticing that numbers are dramatically down. Instead of counting by the thousands, they are probably counting a few hundred daily visitors. Or less.


Readership has always been an important issue for newspapers. Without numbers of readers, the papers can’t justify charging those high prices for advertising space. And advertising is where the real money is made. The money gleaned from subscription rates is significant, but not the backbone of any newspaper.


But newspapers and magazines are hurting these days, mostly because of the Internet. The web is making dinosaurs out of the print media because it offers free and instant information from all over the world. A lot of successful web sites specialize in the top news stories by constantly searching through key news sites, selecting the best stories of the day, and linking directly to them.


Other sites, like this one, like to link to stories of special interest. Some are looking for political news, others search for anomalies, while others go for ghost stories, UFOs, environment and other items of specialized interest. These sites, many operated by a few people with the time and the passion to collect and post every day, are making the Internet what it is, a fantastic tool for the free transmission of information.


The key word here is FREE.


Ironically a lot of newspapers still bear the name “free” on their masthead. This stems from a time when newspapers were handed out free on the street just to get their message, and the message of their advertisements, into the hands of the people. Since then newspapers, like all other forms of print and electronic media, have become big business.


Big newspapers that choose to charge readers for visiting their sites are suppressing this free exchange of the information they might have to offer. I personally visit as many as 25 to 30 different news sites daily, and rarely the same sites two or three days in a row. When I find a story that I think might be added to my site, I link to it. That means I am sending a lot of potential readers from my site into the newspapers website.


If required to register, login and pay subscription fees for every different newspaper website visited, it would not be worth the effort for me, and certainly not for my readers. When I run into a login block, I turn around and abandon the effort to even read the story. The readers on my site would do the same thing. We do not expect to pay for one brief tidbit of information. We will not subscribe for the privilege of reading a newspaper we may only visit once and never return to.


Obviously, the newspapers doing this are attempting to recapture regular subscribers in their own communities. What they fail to realize is that the readers that abandoned them there, also are surfing the web with the rest of us for news. They won’t come back under these conditions either.


The new tactics won’t have much of an effect on my site because I am a writer. Most of the material posted here comes from my own pen. If the story is important enough, I will rewrite it and add editorial comment, thus removing threat of copyright infringement. But you may see major changes occurring on the news link sites. And that would be unfortunate.

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