"I think it's terrific what The New York Times is doing. I'm really looking forward to following it. ... It has to be done, newspapers need to get more money out of print circulation and online revenue. The advertising model alone is not going to make it. I happen to know you are going to see other big papers do something similar over the next few weeks."
-- Brian Tierney, Philadelphia Newspapers CEO, quoted today on the Times plan to charge online readers in 2011 (from a blog at the "new" and disgraced Editor & Publisher, so no link).
OK, before I get to the Mass.-ive Democratic debacle, a quick word about the other big story in Attytood world (yes, it's a very scary place) and that is the announcement by the New York Times that in 2011, long before many Americans can even dream of health insurance, they will begin charging online readers in a kind of a peep-show style, teasing visitors with a couple of quick freebies and then hitting them with a tollbooth before they can get up to speed. (I realize that's a mixed metaphor, but staying within the peep-show metaphor was just way too crude.)
Anyway, this is the kind of thing I used to blog about a lot two or three years ago, before I realized that the news industry is about as on top of things and as capable of meaningful change as the Democratic Party. I also, back then, would have joined the chorus that information wants to be free, blah blah blah. Now, I say....what the heck -- give it a shot and let's see what happens. Newspaper execs have been talking about an Internet paywall for a couple of years, ever since it became clear that online advertising can never fund the kind of newsroom that sends reporters to Haiti or sets them loose on City Hall documents for a couple of months; media reform gurus have been telling us it will never work. Enough already -- just try it and see how it plays out. The stakes couldn't be higher -- if this fails the news business as we know it will collapse for good.
What's important here for you -- Attytood and presumably Philly.com reader -- is that this decision by the Times makes it easier for sites like Philly.com and other metros on the order of the Boston Globe or Chicago Tribune to also begin charging around the same time. It wouldn't have worked the other way. If a Philly.com or Chicago Tribune had started charging but the New York Times was free -- well, that clearly would fail because readers would gravitate to the Times for hard news and hope to skim local news and sports off TV or radio. But the NYT charging first is the not-so-secret signal, kind of like when one airline raises its fares and the others follow that afternoon. Today's news means that every large news org will start charging in 2011 -- whether orgs like the Huffington Post that will likely remain free can fill the void is the $64 billion question.