It will be a few weeks before News International charges its readers to access its flagship UK papers, but champions of free content are already saying that this new business won’t work.
After all, who would pay to read breaking news about the latest plane crash, political resignation or Hollywood divorce when they can click on to the BBC’s generously funded website or Sky’s online offering and read the headlines free of charge?
Certainly not the hordes of London commuters who read their free copy of the Metro every morning, oblivious to the fact that large swathes of its news content comes straight from the Press Association news wires without much analysis or substantial fact checking from its own reporters.
As a former national newspaper journalist and self-confessed news junkie, I strongly believe that the provision of news falls in two categories: on the one side you have news from the freesheets and, dare I say it, the BBC, whose journalists don’t have the freedom to be as outspoken about their opinions as their newspaper peers; and on the other side, you have columnists and commentators who are not afraid to speak their mind and ruffle a few feathers.
Writers like Daniel Finkelstein and Polly Toynbee polarise opinion, but they are respected on both sides of the political divide because of their command of detail, their insider insight, and their ability to digest the raw material and craft a compelling argument out of it.
Free websites can provide this material, and bloggers can play some role in its interpretation, but columnists and many other newspaper writers still carry an authority that other writers do not. And it’s that expertise that I will be willing to pay for.
Cross-posted from The Engine Group Blog