The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is now a an online-only newspaper, surviving and seemingly thriving in a new age. But its ability to report deeply on various issues has been reduced due to a lack of senior staff. Non-professional journalists have been asked to provide stories.
Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch is about to enter a brave a new world, charging people for wonderful content that details the wonders of Western liberation campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan:
“Adios. Give me a call when you’re free again,” posted Jeannine Steward on Times Online yesterday, shortly after Rupert Murdoch’s News International announced that from June it would be charging £2 a week for access to the websites of The Times and The Sunday Times.
The introduction of this internet paywall, first announced by Mr Murdoch last August as he suffered the humiliation of posting a huge annual loss for his global media empire, is a step into the unknown for the most famous newspaper mogul of them all.
Since then, his henchmen have been working overtime in an effort to solve a conundrum that has been vexing traditional media companies for several years: how do you challenge the apparently ingrained concept that online news comes for free?
Yesterday morning Rebekah Brooks, the News International chief executive, released a statement saying that from 1 June it would charge £1 a day, or £2 for a week’s subscription to both The Times’s website and a Sunday Times site that has yet to launch. “This is just the start,” she promised. “These new sites, and the apps that will enhance the experience, reflect the identity of our titles and deliver a terrific experience for readers.”
Predictably, most of those users who have become accustomed to accessing Times Online for nothing were unimpressed. “Boo,” posted Katey Daley. “I won’t pay cause I simply can’t be bothered getting out my credit card and typing in all the details.”
Others could understand News International’s position, a predicament that became more stark with the release of figures last week showing that losses at News International increased to £87.7m in the year to June, from £50.2m in the previous 12 months. “Where else in the internet would you be able to read brilliant articles by A A Gill, Michael Winner, Jeremy Clarkson, Sarah Vine, Matthew Parris, William Rees-Mogg, Dominic Lawson?” posted Peter Hurst, showing an apparent willingness to cough up for his favourites.
Times Online has a unique monthly audience slightly in excess of 20 million. But during a Q&A with readers yesterday, James Harding, editor of The Times, described such users as mere “window shoppers”. He said: “Clearly, we are going to lose a lot of passing traffic. We have, like a few other national newspapers, tens of millions of unique users a month. But they are not regular readers. They are more like window shoppers.”
News International’s move, being watched closely by other newspaper businesses, represents a challenge to the culture of the internet. Michael Wolff, biographer of Mr Murdoch and founder of the news aggregation site Newser.com, said the media mogul’s gamble – which offers free online access to subscribers to the two newspapers – was designed to preserve sales of the print products.
“He does not care about the online business. It’s like the old days when we gave away toasters with subscriptions,” he said. “They are saying ‘Buy my newspaper and you can have online for free. If you don’t, I’m going to make the cost of online reading really quite onerous’. Rupert wants be the guy that saved newspapers. He hates the internet.”