Paywalls, and the demise of news sites

Of course, we'll probably always have the tabloids to inform and enlighten us

Of course, we'll probably always have the tabloids to inform and enlighten us

Since the start of the new year and accelerating through February, I've noticed that an increasing number of newspapers have retreated behind cash walls. I get it: no money, no pay for reporters and editors, but I think the result will be elimination of local reporting. The Wall Street Journal can charge for its content because enough of us think it's worth paying for. Same with the NYT, though I refuse to give them anything, just as a matter of principle.

But in the past few weeks, newspapers like the Bangor Daily News, the Manchester (NH) something, the (bankrupt) Portland Herald, and dozens of small papers across the country have all erected cash walls. I'm a voracious web surfer, and I love following links to obscure stories, but there's no way I'm going to subscribe, even for 99 cents a month, to every pissant site that I'm unlikely to visit again.

Those publishers aren't going to miss my patronage, obviously, but multiplied by millions of would-be visitors who won't return, it seems to me that we'll soon be back where we were before the Internet: local news stays local, with any national dialogue defined and constrained to whatever the Associate Press doles out. That will be a pity, because if you've ever read an article by the AP, and I rarely do anymore, you'll find it one-sided, inaccurate and poorly written.

Blogging will suffer from the phenomenon, as well, because a proper blog links to the original source: just like footnotes in legal writings: articles, briefs, judicial opinions, a link is a promise that the article cited says what the writer says it does, while allowing the reader to go there and make an ind3pendent verification. Without links, a blog circle becomes a mere echo chamber, like Facebook.

I don't have the answer to this, but it's easy to predict that to the extent that small-market newspapers are hoping to survive by charging for their digital editions, they're doomed.