Postmedia announced the inevitable last week: starting in 2013, the Canadian media company will ask readers to pay for online content by implementing paywalls on its entire chain of major metropolitan newspapers. Although the pricing details for Postmedia’s newest paywalls are still unknown, it’s clear that local papers will need to ramp up their quality and become more innovative in their delivery of news if they hope to persuade readers to shell out the extra cash for content that used to be available free of charge.
For Edmontonians, the move will signal the end of freely perusing the Edmonton Journal’s website, as Postmedia is vouching on the subscription-based business model to deflect sinking ad revenues.
While the average reader might have difficulty spotting signs of financial hardships plaguing the Journal, recent changes of late have made these hardships glaringly obvious. The paper stopped publishing the TV Times in June, prompting a direct loss of 96 subscribers and numerous complaints. In July, the paper dropped its Sunday edition, resulting in a direct loss of 320 subscribers.
The announcement of a paywall isn’t that surprising. Earlier in October, the Journal’s Editor-in-Chief, Lucinda Chodan, announced that a paywall was virtually guaranteed for the Journal and would launch some time this fall — although Postmedia’s official announcement last week seems to have delayed that launch. The paper is also implementing “product differentiation,” which acknowledges that print is no longer the dominant medium in delivering news, but rather one of many platforms. It’s about time the Journal officially recognizes this — with tablets, smart phones and social media cementing themselves even deeper into journalism, this is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.
Still, the Journal’s recent cuts might lead much of its audience to question the value of a paywall. Paying for news is almost a novel concept post-internet. Subscription fees have typically paid for the resources that produce the news, but nowadays, it seems even redundant to have to pay for that. With the advent of social media, local news has become accessible through your fingertips.
Nevertheless, paywalls do work, but it all depends on who’s using them. Perhaps the most frequent cited example of paywall use is The New York Times, which implemented one back in March 2011. As the paper’s ad revenues continue to plummet dismally — nearly nine per cent in its third quarter — it gained 57,000 digital subscribers in the same period, a 75 per cent increase from a year ago. It now has 566,000 subscribers paying roughly $100 million a year. By next year, it’s projected that the Times will have as many paying readers online as it does in print — on weekdays.
Here’s the danger: The New York Times is a one-of-a-kind product. On top of offering extensive local coverage, it’s a nationally renowned publication that offers unprecedented content in terms of quality and quantity. The Edmonton Journal faces tough competition from other major dailies, and although the content of these dailies may not be as extensive and refined as the Journal’s, any of these publications could easily take the Journal’s place for readers unwilling to pay the extra charge.
Thankfully, the Journal’s online news coverage has gotten progressively better, with its coverage of the HUB Mall shootings this past summer a particular highlight. Their digital news coverage of the shooting garnered them a nomination for an Online Journalism Award by the U.S.-based Online News Association, squaring them alongside other prominent publications such as The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star.
In order for the paywall to be worth it, the Journal needs to implement more innovative approaches like they did with their HUB coverage. Playing it safe isn’t enough, so they’ll need to start relying even less so on their paper to deliver news. Community-oriented projects like their failed initiative The Bridge need to be better planned out, and they should seek more advice from their readers rather than implement corporate-influenced decisions. Finally — and what’s key — is enhancing their reporting. If the Journal wants to slap on a paywall, their content better well be top notch — that means avoiding typos at all costs, which has plagued too much of their online copy, while also reporting beyond the usual fare and offering stories that matter. If they can up their game, then a paywall might be worth it — but they still have a lot to prove.
Once an idea scoffed at by journalists, paywalls are becoming a sudden reality for the industry. No newspaper today is immune to the grim realities that haunt print journalism. And it’s not unreasonable to assume that nearly all traditional news outlets will be behind some kind of paywall in the near future. Until that time comes, the Edmonton Journal — and all of Postmedia — will remain under watchful eyes as they navigate the tricky terrain of an industry in trouble.
More than 40 years later, does the acting industry still practice maltreatment towards Aboriginal people and misappropriate the culture? According to Aboriginal actress Roseanne Supernault, the acting industry may be on the brink of fundamental change.
Zack Snyder’s hasty reboot of the Superman series in Man of Steel is an exciting and emotionally spellbinding superhero film.