In his recent post about Journalism Online’s intent in proposing a system for news sites to charge for their online content, Steve Outing notes the absurdity of asking readers to pay for content offered by outlets whose quality has diminished after laying off thousands of journalists:
The minute paywalls go up on content on the web, all but the most devoted will click elsewhere to find alternatives. Consumer behavior will make an abrupt change online. Brill and his supporters think that newspaper content is so special that bloggers and new news players online won’t match the quality, yet newspaper quality has been sinking badly as thousands of journalists have been pushed onto the street.
Setting aside the issue of quality, news sites that intend to charge for content have their heads in the sand if they think people will pay because “Who else will provide the coverage?”
Plenty will. And plenty are, as Mark Potts pointed out during a panel in Baltimore, titled “The End of Local News? If Communities Lose Newspapers, Who Will Fill the Void?”:
For the most part, not surprisingly, this august crowd with deep local roots couldn’t even imagine a Baltimore without its [Baltimore] Sun, and as a result there was a bit too much of the usual printie breastbeating about how only large metro newspapers can provide real local coverage.Hogwash. And when my turn came to speak, I set out to prove it. For my presentation, I played show and tell: I cued up a couple dozen Web sites that already are providing coverage of Baltimore, right under the Sun’s nose, and took the panel and audience on a rapid-fire tour of Baltimore’s media ecosystem, circa 2009. It was hardly a comprehensive list—I’m sure I missed dozens if not hundreds of other blogs, hyperlocal sites, verticals and others that are already–and that’s a key point—replacing the Sun as key sources of local information. Back to the panel’s title: “Who will fill the void?” It’s already being filled. …… I started with a handful of local news sites and blogs: Baltimore Brew, Baltimore Crime, Investigative Voice, BmoreNews, BlogBaltimore, InsideCharmCity. All of these are providing a window into Baltimore life; many are doing the kind of deep-dive local reporting that traditionalists seem to think is the exclusive province of metro newspapers. …… I also wanted to show the Baltimore audience that there’s other interesting local work being done elsewhere: the terrific VoiceofSanDiego, which is doing the kind of local watchdog reporting that many journalists—including some on the Baltimore panel—somehow think can only come from newspapers, and its big-city counterparts around the country, like MinnPost, ChiTown Daily News. and the New Haven Independent. To show local community coverage on a smaller scale, I trotted out Baristanet and WestportNow, two of the longest-running examples of the hundreds of hyperlocal sites now providing news and information for small towns. For a glimpse of what happens when technology is brought to bear on local information, I showed Everyblock and Fwix, with their unique ways of mapping voluminous local data and news.