Wednesday, 20 January 2010

In two minds about newspaper paywalls

Fabulous news, in 2011 The New York Times will start charging for its website! All we need now is for every other newspaper, magazine, the BBC and YouTube to join the Murdoch titles, the FT, Wall Street Journal, and so on, and we might all actually get some work done for once - instead of scrolling through Google Reader, opening links on Twitter, and searching in vain for stuff on iPlayer that we haven't already seen/heard once this week, before repeating it all again for no good reason other than it's been another twenty minutes.

Or maybe that's just me.

Anyway. Bliss. I almost can't wait.

(For one thing, I've always wondered what time travel might be like - this alone would be like going back five years).

But of course there's a much wider point here than a possible (but doubtless only temporary) boon to my personal productivity: mightn't widespread moves to paid and limited free content, effectively, ration news only to those who can afford it? And what of our present ability to compare sources and obtain a more rounded perspective on events? I mean, imagine a world where the current most popular news sources have even stronger voices - The Daily Mail? ITV? FOX News?


Worse than 'Brrrr...'

But that assumes that most of us don't already rely, for the most part, on just one or two sources, usually supplemented only now and again when something especially interests or concerns us. Most of us do, I think. And most of the proposed paywalls will at least make a certain amount of articles free to non-regular readers, over certain time periods. (Even if such systems do, though, have the effect of penalising the site's most loyal readers).

The major concern, then, looks to be whether paywalls will be sufficiently open that there is enough news still freely available - to encourage diversity of opinions, democracy, free speech, or any of the other benefits suggested by commentators like Jeff Jarvis. Whether or not information really does want to be free, it would be terrible to lose any of these benefits, essentially, just for the sake of some adverts.

Sigh, and yet I really do quite like the idea of fewer distractions...

Well. You know. It's just such hard work using will power.

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