Just another brick in the (pay)wall

The more I read about newspapers leaning toward setting up “pay walls” to charge for online content, the more I come to realize that this is just the industry falling back on its old practices.

Newspapers, after all, have a long and storied history for operating with walls, both from within and outside.

You can’t blame publishers completely for this. After all, the very nature of journalism and the need to be unbiased in the reporting of news requires a journalist to be “removed” from the people he or she covers. He must set up a wall between he and those he covers to avoid the illusion of  favoritism or … worse … impropriety. As a result, many of these reporters, as they come up through the ranks of management as editors, become farther removed from the public they once covered.

Newspapers in general have operated in silos for generations. Newsrooms, advertising, circulation, pressroom and packaging have worked in spite of each other to put out a daily product. Departments rarely talked to each other and, in many cases, looked at each other with disdain. Editorial and advertising were the worst, operating in a Cold War-like relationship. They couldn’t live without each other, though they would have liked to.

As a result,  one department’s operations were usually unkown to another, which created another wall…that between customer service and readers. Traditionally, customer service was operated by circulation and were well-versed in newspaper delivery issues. But ask a customer service rep who you need to talk to in advertising about putting in a display ad, or ask who you need to talk to about a story idea, and it’s likely you’ll be transferred to several people before you get an answer … if you get an answer.  If your local newspaper is bigger than, say, 75,000 in circulation, try to call customer service with a non-delivery issue. (This issue is even greater with papers that have outsourced their customer service departments overseas).

So it’s not surprising that publishers, on an effort to turn around bleeding revenue losses, will put in place tollbooths to online contents instead of looking inward and seriously asking “what value does my online product give its customers?”

But, then again, I’m sure the customers will be seriously asking that before plunking down their money. In competitive news markets, the one that has most value will most liekly get away with it.

For the others, they may follow Humpty Dumpty off that wall.

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