Posted November 2, 2009 2:44 pm by with 7 comments

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NewsdayHere’s an interesting twist on the ‘pay for access to conten’t dilemma that faces the newspaper industry these days. Newspapers who do this may actually lose a writer or two! While it’s not likely that staffers at any newspaper are looking to just walk out the door to another job because there really aren’t any but you may get some that are going to walk n principle.

A case in point is what happened at New York Newsday. The New York Times reports

Customers of Cablevision, the cable and Internet provider that owns Newsday, and people who subscribe to Newsday in print will still be able to browse unfettered. But Newsday recently announced that everyone else will have to pay $5 a week to see much of the site, making it one of the few newspapers in the country to take such a plunge.

As a result of this announcement long time columnist Saul Friedman threw in the pen, so to speak, and walked.

In an interview, Mr. Friedman said, “My column has been popular around the country, but now it was really going to be impossible for people outside Long Island to read it.” That includes him; living outside Washington, he is not a subscriber to Newsday or Cablevision.

This sounds like a real bold move I know but now the cynic in me (which I love and hate all at once) has to take into account the fact that Mr. Friedman is 80 years old. Not exactly the prime of his career but he could go on writing for many, many, many more years (and I sincerely hope he does). While this is noble it’s not the same as if some newspaper industry giant walked away from a central job at a huge paper to make the point. Once again, I am not trying to minimize what Mr. Friedman is saying but I am trying to see this in context.

I’m actually more interested in how many people are willing to spend the $5 a week for the paper online? If they are not sacrificing their current subscribers and most of the New York region is a Cablevision subscriber is Newsday really doing anything here other than trying to make a few bucks? There are quite a few folks who have left the New York area for other areas of the country but most don’t check back on the local media but occasionally (I am one of those). If I had to pay $5 a week for it I would go without it for sure because it is for fun and not a necessity.

If you have moved from somewhere would you pay for access to the local media to keep up? All of you transplants from Chicago, LA, Philly etc do you care that much about what happens ‘back home’?

  • At this point it’s not necessary for most people to buy subscriptions to online news. That may change if Rupert Murdoch’s initiative gains momentum, but there are less well-known news sites willing to step up to the plate to serve free-access news if the major brands close the gates and pull up the drawbridges.

    In my opinion, any news site that isn’t already receiving income from other sources would be committing financial suicide to go to an online-subscription only model at this point in time. I would be interested to see if anyone has stayed afloat in a few months, assuming someone has made the movie already.

    Previously existing brands that were always built through online subscription are not in the same class as the news sites people are using to browsing for free.
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  • Liz

    I don’t do it daily but I often look at the local paper from the towns/states my family lives in, just to know what’s going on. I just like to know the local news but not enough to subscribe to them. I managed to go years without access to them before they had a website, I wouldn’t like it but I could go back to that. If it was a local paper where I lived, it would be a different story.

  • I am very proud Mr. Friedman made such a drastic move. He has taken up the banner of readers. I think he’ll still be able to write for a major publication due to his skills and (recently increased) reputation. I wonder what would have happened if Newsweek only charged $1/week? Think he still would have left. I hope so

  • A writer who leaves simply because his employer is trying to stay in business is stuck in the past.

    And sorry, but Case’s comment above, implying a sense of entitlement to free information, is exactly why newspapers are in the hurt locker now.

    Simple economics will drag the “online information should be free” argument into the grave and people will realize that without a profit, news organizations will cease to exist.

    I will agree that simply charging for news will be a rocky road. Newspapers will have to find a way to differentiate themselves if they are going to be successful in charging for content.
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  • If I can read the news in print, why pay extra to read it online? Is there any ‘major’ difference between the content in print and online? But let’s face it. They already made the announcement and they already lost one good columnist. A lot of people may find this absurd but Newsday, for sure, have thought about this before going public. After all it’s their business who’s on the line here.
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  • As a Long Island resident I can attest to the following:

    1) Newsday is owned by Cablevision which is notorious on LI for bumping up rates on a yearly basis with no improvement in service. Also as they own Madison Square Garden and the Knicks they get grief for the crappy Knicks record. This move made them no fans on LI.
    2) In terms of news quality, Newsday and its sister tv station News12 are both always bringing up the rear in timely reporting of news events and just as many LIers read the NY Daily News and the NY Post. Newsday has been hemorrhaging subscribers on a regular basis. Many view the move by Cablevision to make Newsday online content free to Optimum Cablevision subscribers as a way to bulk up subscriber rates for both the newspaper and the cable service.

    All in all, the ‘principled’ exit of a staff writer went largely unnoticed on LI because neither the paper not the newschannel of the parent company gave it any coverage so as not to embarass themselves.