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On Pay Walls and Journalism

There has been some discussion around the Wild fanbase recently about pay walls. For the uninitiated, pay walls are the requirement that the consumer of online content pay for the content they consume. It sounds oh so simplistic, but as with anything else, nothing is ever as simple as it seems. The content we are discussing right now is that of the local newspapers, with the major player (The StarTribune) instituting a new pay wall system after viewing 20 articles a month.

What this has resulted in is some grumbling around the interwebz and what may be an exodus away from the very content the providers want the consumer to pay for. It's a messy situation involving jobs, a new technology based economy, and what people are willing to pay for and what they aren't, even if it is something they want and need.

After the jump, one man's take on the situation. This is a bit off topic for Hockey Wilderness, and is not about hockey. Please skip this post if that displeases you.

Free Content

Free content isn't free. I hope everyone can at least agree on that. Someone is paying for it, it just might not be you. Advertising, in particular ever increasingly aggressive and in your face internet advertising, pays for the majority of "free" online content. Other types of sponsorships can be found, but ultimately, it is all advertising.

With Netflix Hulu and other streaming sites, there are standard TV commercials, and people gripe about that. With online radio stations, there are standard radio spots, and people complain about those. No one seems to mind the ads in the newspaper, on the TV, or on the radio, but once they hit the web, they expect the content to be free and have zero interruption from advertising.

Something has to give at some point. Providers of content eventually want to be paid for that content, and advertising has been, for decades, the way to bring in revenue.

Advertising Losses

Companies are unwilling to pay for advertising these days. Well, not so much unwilling to pay for it as they are unwilling to pay as much for it as they used to. Like any business, newspapers don't want to go out of business. They want to make money, provide jobs, and continue to provide the journalism they have for... well, a couple centuries now.

With the losses in advertising revenues, the newspapers need to do one of two things: cut costs or raise money another way. As I mentioned on Twitter a few days ago, there is a third option - make less money - but the newspapers already are on the brink of bankruptcy. In fact, the StarTribune only recently emerged from bankruptcy with some rather stringent rules on the reporters and people who provide the journalism we all crave and don't want to pay for.

Advertisers will pay, but apparently, they won't pay enough.

So What?

So, we're back to our two options. The costs could be cut, but it means cutting jobs at this point. The likelihood would be that the jobs lost would be in the very areas we sports fans desire the most... sports coverage. Think it's cheap to not only pay Russo a livable wage, but also to provide him with the same benefits you want from your employer, AND to fly him all over the continent to bring you the news on the team you love the most?

Do you follow other sports? Multiply it all by however many sports you follow. Want more coverage? Wonder why the Swarm get no love in the paper? Because it isn't any cheaper to fly a reporter around to follow the Swarm than it is the Vikings or Twins, save for maybe being able to hire a junior reporter to do so.

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. What's Your Point, Reynolds?

Look, I'm not here to sell the newspaper. The Strib and Pioneer Press have a sales force that can do that for them, and get paid to do so. What I am here to remind you is that content isn't free. SBNation sites are free to you because that is the business model SBNation uses. How many road games have Nathan and I covered in person? I'll give you a hint, it is one less than one. SBNation can operate at the level we do without on the road live coverage. We think it would be better with it, but are you going to pay for that?

I've got a guess.

I don't mean to come down on your heads, and yell "Get off my lawn" at you like some aging defender of that which cannot be defended. I love my digital subscription to the Strib. $10 a month, I get a digital copy of the paper every day. With that, I don't have to worry about pay walls. I'm a subscriber, just like the guy who gets the fish-wrap version delivered everyday. I use the service, I want the people who provide it to continue providing it, so I pay for it.

I am an advocate for new media. Just because I don't write for the Strib doesn't mean I shouldn't have access. However, I also don't get paid to do this, so I rely on the people that do to provide at least the basic truths we are working with. I can't be at practice everyday. I have to earn a living, just like everyone else. I rely on those who make their living being at practice to give me the information I need to fill this site. Sure, I have eyes, I have ears, I can ask a question and get an answer. But I don't have the time to build the relationships needed to get the good stuff.

My point is, if you want something in life that doesn't belong to you, someone has to pay to give it to you. The advertisers are unwilling to do so, and at this point, so are the newspapers. If you want Russo's content, after 20 articles, you'll have to pay for it. If, after 20 articles a month, you feel it isn't worth it, don't pay for it. That's the way our system works.If the Strib, or other content providers feel a pinch from cutting you off from the sweet mother's milk, maybe they'll reverse course.

Maybe not.

Right now, we have a choice. Pay for the content, at a cost as low as a $1 a week, or don't. If you do, people like Russo can continue doing their job and providing you with impeccable coverage of your favorite team. If not, well, eventually the Strib goes out of business and Russo goes to work for ESPN and you have to pay for the content anyway.

Pay now, pay later, don't pay at all. The choice is completely yours. The best things in life are free. Unfortunately, the best journalists aren't. If you have a better way for the reporters to get paid for the work they do, I, and the newspapers, are all ears. But if you think for a second the people doing this for basically free (the folks here at Hockey Wilderness) can do the same job without some sort of boost in revenues, you're out of your mind.

The choice, as always, remains yours. I won't tell you not to complain, I won't ride you for not buying a newspaper or clicking on ads here on Hockey Wilderness. That's your choice, and capitalism shall reign supreme. I simply wish to remind you that when people get paid to do something, it has to be paid for somehow.Hopefully through the blind rage of resistance to change, you can see that truth.

The medium doesn't matter. The quality of work does. That's the argument we made, and continue to make. And it is the argument I make today.

What say you, Wilderness? What's the solution here?