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The Online Newspaper Paywall: You Can Build It, But They Won't Come

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If history repeats itself then the newspaper industry is like a freakin' hamster wheel. When papers first hit the web, many had their content locked up tight behind paywalls. I remember because I worked in politics at the time and I hated coming up against that #&$^#& wall when I did research.

Gleefully, over time that wall came down. But now the print editions of newspapers are coming down with the wall and the industry is F-R-E-A-K-I-N-G out. One by one, newspaper execs are calling for the bricklayers to come back to work.

Of course, that will only work if all newspapers go the paywall route. If the New York Times goes back to premium content, who cares? I can still get what I want from the Washington Post. Sure, I have to hand over my email, but they don't bug me, so who cares? So, it's all for one and one for all in order for paywall to make its comeback.

Small problem. If the newspapers get together and all agree to implement a paywall, that would be a whopper of an antitrust violation.

And that's okay with Columbia Journalism Review's David Simon. An antitrust violation is perfectly acceptable if you look at the big picture: saving journalism. In his mind, the only true journalism is with existing, traditional media companies.

He thinks papers should become like the cable industry. And don't you just love the cable industry? All those options and choices? The price wars? The quick expansion of technology to rural areas? Yeah, they don't exist. It's quite monopolistic.

But thanks, Mr. Simon. Thanks for reminding me that I already pay extra for the news. I get CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. I get the business channels and sports channels. Why should I shell out even more for papers....to get the same news?

Even if it wasn't an antitrust violation, there's no way that news bloggers and the new brand of citizen journalists (who publish online) are going to abandon their business models, which is based on advertising. That means people will still be able to get their news for free.

With that scenario, the only thing that would support the paywall would be if companies and the government made a pac with the newspapers to not allow bloggers and citizen journalists to attend pressers or receive press releases.

It's hard to see how the current administration, which is doing quite a bit of antitrust investigation, would support any ounce of this. Plus, since bloggers and new media were so crucial to Obama's election, which was won by reaching out to community after community after community, it would certainly be a slap in the face to them, which is unlikely.

And you better hope that unlikelihood stays in place. Because the papers are talking. They'll deny it, but they are. If When the papers make a pact, they will then become the news (antitrust violations are always news). But do you think they'll report on themselves? Without bias? Not a chance. Why do you think the Columbia Journalism Review is promoting paywalls to save journalism?

Go ahead, newsies. Build the paywall. Think of yourselves so highly that news can't exist outside the Times or Post. But don't be surprised if you find yourself tearing it down faster than you can say bankruptcy.


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