Investigative reporting = premium paid content?

By Steve Outing

Within reports of MediaNews Group about to institute a metered paywall at a couple of its newspapers by May is something disturbing. This excerpt is from a Bloomberg report about the newspaper chain’s plans:

“The newspapers, in York, Pennsylvania, and Chico, California, will give users free access to as many as 25 ‘premium’ articles monthly, after which they’ll have to pay an undetermined fee unless they subscribe to the print newspapers, said MediaNews President Joseph Lodovic. Premium content may include certain columns and investigative reporting, he said.

“’Most of our content will remain free,’ Lodovic said yesterday in an e-mail. ‘Once subscribed, the reader will have access to all premium across MediaNews Group.'”

I’ll buy the idea of calling investigative reporting “premium content”; it’s the most important journalism produced by most newspaper companies. But I take issue with adding “paid online” to that description.

So the Chico Enterprise-Record publishes a blockbuster investigative series uncovering, say, that private contractors are dumping waste into the lake that supplies most of the city’s water while city officials look the other way because they’ve been bribed. That’s a story you would want every person in Chico, and the state for that matter, to read.

But, no, you’ll have to pay for that if you’ve gone over your free web article quota.

I get it. MediaNews Group needs the money, would like more people to go back to paying for print editions, and is putting an online price tag on its best, “premium” content.

Really, I have no issue with news organizations charging for premium content or services, if they can figure out what they’ve got that’s not available elsewhere for free, a couple mouse-clicks away (which is a big if).

Unfortunately, lumping investigative journalism into the paywalled content pile is against the interests of the newspaper’s community.

How about if newspaper publishers decide to go with web paywalls (not my idea of a good strategy), they at least exempt investigative journalism in the interests of an informed citizenry?

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!