Turning inner space into outer space

August 22, 2012

Paywalls won't increase the quality of journalism

Much has been said about how — essentially a paid version of Twitter — could make for a better quality service. The idea is that the people behind will be driven to think of better ways to serve their clients, rather than advertisers.

Could a similar argument be made for news sites?

An increasing number of sites are going behind a paywall, most favouring the metered model where readers are allowed a certain number of articles each month before being asked to pay.

Melanie Coulson, the online editor at the Ottawa Citizen, writes that a paywall could result in less dependence on pageviews to satisfy advertisers — and thus higher quality articles designed to attract paid subscribers.

It’s an interesting theory, except that I’m willing to bet most reporters would protest they’re already doing their darndedest to create good journalism. And they’re doing it for newspapers that have always had a paywall of sorts (i.e. subscriptions) for the print version.

And if a paywall really results in better journalism, why not take that argument to the extreme and see where it leads? If a news site were to dump advertising altogether and rely solely on (expensive) subscriptions, would that make their work any better?

Instead it could lead to a decrease in quality. Those paying readers might wind up making demands that lead to biased coverage. Special interests could push their agenda to the forefront.

We should be honest with readers. There’s no need for pie-in-the-sky promises of “quality” journalism. We need revenue to continue providing you with news. Pay us and we will do our best.