The Reno Gazette-Journal (RGJ) recently decided to lock themselves behind a wall and it will cost you at least $12/month to see what they have hidden. Does anyone else see the problem with this business model?
Allow me to reconstruct the history of news media in America to understand why this is a death sentence to the RGJ.
In the 1700’s, newspapers became the source of community news. These newspapers often portrayed a political view, but were THE source of information in a society where travel was limited and information scarce. Writers and editors often became key figures in the social and political structure as the gatekeepers of what would be printed.
The invention of radio and television gave new options to the public on how they accessed news. The radio offered broadcast news that reached more people faster; however, newspapers remained the source of news because it existed in corporeal form. News transmitted on radio waves disappeared if a person wasn’t in front of the radio during the broadcast. Newspapers; however, almost always gave more a more in-depth account of the events.
Television came shortly after radio and added the exciting features of seeing the reporter and moving images of events; however, newspapers continued to be the best source of significant events.
CNN was the first real threat to newspapers. It offered news 24/7/365 and it often relayed events in progress. People no longer had to wait for a newspaper’s version that would come the next day. The newspaper still had the corporeal advantage because CNN would eventually move on to the other news while newspapers could be read anytime. Newspapers also still gave more in-depth reporting on local news issues.
It wasn’t until the creation of the Internet that newspapers faced a challenge that would threaten their existence. The public use of the Internet stripped newspapers of almost every advantage they held. News was not only reported, it was discussed and people reacted in real-time. With the development of the Google search engine topics could be accessed and researched at any time anywhere there was Internet access. The news was no longer filtered and limited to what an editor thought people should know, but rather raw information reached individuals who made their own decisions on what was significant to them.
Reporters who spent years in college and thousands of dollars in tuition and books now found themselves competing against bloggers who had no editors to please. Reporters might get the story and accurately report it to their community but in a real-time world their information was just following up to what people already knew. Newspapers have adapted by presenting an online version of the information that will be in the next day’s paper and that has helped writers compete and be read; however, investors want profit and that is the heart of the dilemma.
The Reno Gazette-Journal has decided that they will create demand and increase revenue by limiting access. That is a rational position to take if you have a product that has significant value and demand, but newspapers and their value appeals to a diminishing demographic. Older white males are dying off at an incredibly rapid pace and newspapers have little demand or value to younger, non-white, non-male demographics. How does RGJ expect to gain new readers by charging for access who have free access to local online news through three Reno television news station’s webpages?
There is another problem with RGJ’s decision that may impact the quality of writing. A writer for RGJ has to accept that their audience will be extremely limited. Blogs will exist for decades and are be searchable to anyone in the world. An RGJ reporters work is locked away behind a wall forever. Who wants to dedicate their life to writing and have it unread? Over time writers will have to decide how much damage RGJ is doing to their career by locking their work behind a pay wall. Once the good writers are gone, what value will the Reno Gazette-Journal have to anyone, paying or otherwise?