Paywalls, Journalism & the Boston Globe

Access denied.


When I was a newspaper reporter, my peers and I referred to ourselves as “Inked-Stained Wretches.”  It was our way of celebrating the broadsheet.  The printed product that we all wrote for.

From an early age, I wanted to be a newspaperman.  I was the editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper; news editor and editorial page editor for my college newspaper.  I toiled for various newspapers for more than a decade: city council meetings, house fires, murders, politics and business reporting.

But even when I left back in 1999, the newspaper business was in decline.  That descent hit warp speed in 2008 when the economic meltdown combined with social media and the Internet to drive a stake into the heart of the newspaper business.  Recovery will not be forthcoming.  The newspaper business is finished.

Last year – after more than two decades of being a loyal daily reader of the Boston Globe – I canceled my subscription.  For the first time in my adult life, I had no home delivery of a newspaper.  No more broadsheets.  No more ink stains.

Now more than 15 months later, much to my surprise, I haven’t missed it.

Here’s how I get my news now:

  • My social graph on Facebook and Twitter pushes me articles of interest.  I follow multiple news sources from the Boston Globe, New York Times, Washington Post, TIME, Mother Jones, CNN to several excellent blogs.
  • My iGoogle homepage is filled with RSS feeds from many of the same news sources that I follow on social networks.  Updates and new stories are pushed directly onto my homepage feeds.  I also have a tab dedicated to RSS feeds for sports, social media and literature.
  • My iPhone is loaded with news applications from NPR, the Economist, News360, Pulse, BBC, Stitcher, PBS and the Wall Street Journal to name but a few.  I also have an entire category dedicated to sports with applications from ESPN, CBS Sports, NFL Scores, WEEI (a local sports radio station), and several others.
  • I subscribe to the New York Times online and on my iPhone app.
  • I listen to NPR on WBUR and WGBH on my car radio during my commute to work.

I don’t watch TV at home, but jump online when breaking news happens to get the latest developments.  All of this come to me free of charge, except for the New York Times.  I pay a monthly subscription to get full online and mobile access to the New York Times content.  I’m willing to pay because of the excellent quality of the reporting and commentary by the Times.

Last week, the Boston Globe announced that it would be putting its online news behind a paywall.  But I will not be reaching for my wallet to pay for access.

The problem with the Globe is content.  Primarily quality content.  They just don’t have it like they used to.  When I do get a single copy paper or browse there are few thought-provoking pieces.  Few must-reads.

And the op-ed page is guilty of the worst kind of sin – being dull.

This is the challenge that faces all daily newspapers.  They have scaled back head counts, bought out veteran reporters in favor of fresh-faced and cheaper newbies, and have put a priority on reporting rather than on journalism.  Online news sources, including other newspapers and blogs, challenge their resources not every day, but every minute.

To win newspapers have to give up their focus on reporting – the ultimate commodity in the online world of news – and concentrate on journalism.  Journalism is getting beneath the news to provide insight.  It’s investigation, analysis and thoughtful commentary.  It’s in-depth expository reporting.

I’ll pay for that.  But in my opinion, the Globe isn’t doing enough of that these days.

I wish them luck with their paywall, but if they don’t improve quality I foresee troubles ahead.

(This post expands on comments I made at Dan Kennedy’s bog Media Nation.)


Why I Canceled My Newspaper Subscription

Newspapers Should Replace Reporting with Journalism

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