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The News Tip: Don’t Listen To Naysayers

Filed by KOSU News in Business.
October 30, 2011

Getting people to pay for news online isn’t easy, but back in March, The New York Times gave it a shot. The pay wall was seen as a risky move at the time, but the Gray Lady’s third-quarter profit reports are in, and the results are better than expected. The paper’s profits are up, and the Times has seen a boost in digital subscribers.

Considering these results, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik has this news tip: “If you only listen to the naysayers, you’ll never succeed.”

“It’s worth remembering the prevailing wisdom has been that information on the Web wants to be free, and you can’t charge people for news as a commodity online,” Folkenflik says.

The New York Times took a leap over that notion, and others in the industry agreed it was a necessary change. The day the paper put up the pay wall, Folkenflik spoke with Gordon Crovitz, past publisher of The Wall Street Journal and the head of Press+, a group that’s helping news organizations around the country put up their own pay walls. Crovitz said it was time to get creative.

“Ad revenues … over time, I’m confident, will continue to decline and will not support quality journalism. There have to be other revenue streams,” Crovitz said, “and the most typical one has always been letting the most loyal, avid readers help cover the expense.”

Back in March, Folkenflik also spoke with Emily Bell, director of Digital Journalism at the Columbia School of Journalism and former head of digital operations at The Guardian.

“I think there are so many ways now whereby we can measure whether a piece of journalism is regarded as quality or good or valuable,” she said, “which doesn’t necessarily have a monetary unit attached to it.”

The Times does allow readers to access or share a certain number of articles a month before the pay wall kicks in.

Folkenflik recently asked Bell how she thought The New York Times was faring. It was “still too early to tell,” she said, and added, “What’s success?”

But the trend is catching on around the country.

“A lot of mid- and smaller-sized news organizations are saying, ‘We need to figure out a way to do this,’ ” Folkenflik says. “It’s a time of experimentation in the news business.”

What innovation do you want to see news organizations experiment with? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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