Just kidding. But not all websites are.
As a student majoring in journalism, I’ve heard the pros and cons of paywalls on news sites weighed more times than I can count.
I think it’s safe to say that almost everyone who is heavily involved in news (by which I mean either writes or reads the news on a very regular basis) has been waiting for the day that paywalls will either take over all news sites or vanish completely.
As Clay Shirky explains in this article, when people receive news from the television or radio, they are not buying every episode or every breaking news story. They bought the television, and the shows are free (well, most of them). They bought the radio, so they don’t pay for the news. If they pay for cable television, they’re still paying for the way news is received, not for the specific 30 to 60 minute time slot allotted for a station. Using this logic, someone who buys a computer should receive the news for free.
Yes, for a very long time people have paid for newspapers. However, at a whole fifty cents per issue, the cost of newspapers could pretty much pay for the ink and paper. Also, (unless the reader was a diligent recycler) newspapers tend to take up a lot of space in landfills.
In television and radio, revenue is brought in via advertising. The same goes for the internet, which generates revenue via pop-up ads, pay-per-click, and annoyances. The newspaper industry used advertising, too, selling certain sizes of ad space to various companies and services. So why is the news industry freaking out about installing paywalls? Why not just choose good advertisers (key word here is “good,” not “more”) and let readers roam free?
This is all without even mentioning how porous and easily bypassed many paywalls are. One commenter mentioned that all they have to do on a certain site is push the “x” to stop loading the web page as soon as the articles load. Others have said that they just delete the cookies attached to their browsers and try again. There are ways to change an IP address too which, if a reader is desperate enough and the paywall is strict enough, can be a pain to do.
Some say that, since websites don’t usually sell all of their advertising space anyways, the revenue from pay walls (no matter how small) will make up for the decrease in traffic that would otherwise pay out in the form of ads.
But if a news site loses 80% of its readership because of a paywall, doesn’t that defeat the purpose of a newspaper?
Something that I have always been taught and believe very strongly to be true is that journalists are the gatekeepers of information- love us or hate us, the media tells you everything from celebrity gossip to which restaurants will most likely give you food poisoning to local, national, and global tragedies. Journalists decide what to write and when to write it. They do all of the grunt work, digging, researching, questioning and fact-checking that a non-journalist wouldn’t think of or care enough about to do. And do you know why journalists do this? Why people purposefully go into this field knowing about the lousy pay and even lousier hours?
Because bringing the news to people is important. Keeping people informed is important. Breaking scandals and finding out the truth behind why things have happened is important. We might be slight adrenaline junkies. And probably because we enjoy writing a little bit.
My point in all of this is that, as journalists, we know we aren’t going to be rich off of our line of work. This is something we are all taught from the first day we step foot in a university classroom. We also know that there’s a chance that we’re going to be shipped to another continent or do an interview in a warzone. We know that sometimes when the truth is brought to the surface that our lives may be on the line. And we know that people are going to pay a very diminutive amount of money to receive all of this information. Even local news anchors start out making minimum wage and working terrible hours. But none of this is a surprise.
We, as journalists, do this job because we love it and we know that what we’re doing makes a difference in the world. As I stated earlier, we know we aren’t going to make a lot of money from this field. We’re very well aware of the fact that we’ll be working during Christmas, most likely miss a lot of our kids’ soccer games, and probably end up getting called into work multiple times on days when we should have off. However, our jobs have meaning, and putting a paywall in place completely defeats the whole purpose.
There are a select few who will be willing to pay the sum of money needed to access an entire news site. There are more people who are going to figure out a way to circumvent the entire process and not have to deal with it. Even more people will either just find a completely free website or just wait until the news comes on TV and watch it all.
Am I complaining? Not even close. I don’t want to throw money at a paywall, either. I don’t want to pay more money for a local newspaper, and I’m certainly not upgrading my cable TV so I can have a “better” news station. I’m going to do what almost everyone else does- I’m going to Google the story and find it for free somewhere else.
Lastly- please don’t blame the journalists for the paywalls. I’m sure there are plenty who agree with the idea, but there are also many who don’t. And I can promise you that the ones who don’t support paywalls, who are sitting in front of their computers and watching their page views plummet because their company decided to implement a cap on the number of free pages viewed, are more crushed by the fact that their hard-earned work is going unread than by the thought of not becoming rich (or, I guess, even slightly increasing their income) off of their career.