A few words on the Times paywall

Inevitably since I’ve written for the Times a few readers have questioned why, as the paper’s online content is no longer free. Andrew Denny, for example, wrote: ‘Is there not an irony in the fact that your Times articles are now online behind a paywall and not openly accessible?’

It’s a point I’d like to address.

Firstly this comment is to miss the clear difference between a public body and private industry. The courts are paid for by the public. We have no choice but to pay our taxes – under threat of jail – to support this service which exists for the benefit of the public as a whole. Whether we like what we get is immaterial to the taxes we must pay. Transparency is one of the only ways to ensure this public body is working efficiently for the benefit of all, not just the elite.

The Times is a private company. Its survival depends entirely on whether people feel they get something of value for the money they pay. Newspapers are not free and they never have been. They can appear to be so but someone, somewhere is covering the costs whether that is through advertising, a patron’s largesse or a license fee. Advertising is no longer subsidising the industry and so the cost must fall somewhere – why not on the people who use it?

I actually believe journalism must improve if the Times is asking people to pay for it, as readers are not going to pay for inaccurate rumour or propaganda. They can get that anywhere – for free. What quality journalism can offer is synthesis of a great amount of material which is then verified and put into language everyone can understand.

I believe the experience and skills I’ve gained over 22 years as a journalist and writer have value which is why I don’t give away my work for free. I’ve written for the Times because they have valued what I do enough to pay me. The New Statesman magazine also asked me to write an article but they didn’t want to pay me anything. To me, that shows how much they value quality journalism.

If you don’t think there is any value in the work I, or any other serious journalists do, then don’t spend your money on it. At least you have the choice. You’ll still have to pay your taxes, though.

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8 Responses to “A few words on the Times paywall”

  1. Josh Spero says:

    I would like to think that you’re right – quality will have to improve – but the increasing technologisation of the industry means that ‘content producers’ will still have to divide their time between blogging, vlogging, writing articles, etc, and will still have to stay glued to their desks, leaving less time for in-depth original work.

  2. Kate Bevan says:

    I’m a serious journalist and proud to work for a newspaper that continues to publish its website for free. Taking the Murdoch shilling and then defending its paywall undermines your credibility, Heather, and I’m very sorry to see that.

    The debate about paywalls is an interesting one and yes, absolutely, quality journalism has to be paid for somehow. The FT proves that you can charge a premium for unique and valued content. Online readers however don’t seem to regard The Times’ journalism as unique or valued. Writing for The Times means your work is in effect rendered invisible online. Your choice, I suppose.

    The broader issue of how to monetise online news is one we’re going to continue to grapple with for a while yet. But one thing’s for sure: paywalls, unless you have something really special to offer, are not the way forward. I fear for the day Murdoch decides it’s no longer worth paying for a website for The Times and closes it down.

  3. Andrew Denny says:

    Heather,

    Firstly, I originally read at the end of the post that ‘there was a longer version of it in the Times’. I can see now that I got it wrong – you said the blog is the longer version. (I’m used to seeing the locution “This is an edited version of an article in The Times”) My apologies.

    Based on my original mistake, my reaction was prompted by thinking that if you are taking such a principled stand against official secrecy, then your ENTIRE ARGUMENT should be in the open and not be behind a paywall. (“Justice should be open to all, like The Times paywall,” as Lord Justice Mathew might have said.)

    However, I screwed that one up by not reading the end of your post properly :-)

    Believe it or not, I’m *NOT* against a paywall. And bravo for Rupert Murdoch for trying to take this stand. If he makes it work, well, great. We all want to be paid for our work. But I’m uneasy about the way The Times is doing it, and like to expand on that, but I don’t think this particular comment is the place to do it. Maybe in another comment, if you’re not already too bored :-)

    Can I just add that you frequently mention ‘paying taxes’ as justification for the right to getting public information. I’d argue that paying taxes is just another paywall. I think the information should be freely available without having to be a taxpayer – or even a citizen.

    Andrew Denny

  4. Andrew Denny says:

    Damn, I wrote a short but reasoned argument on why I’m in favour of paywalls, only not in the form that The Times does it, and the implications for freedom of information. I cut it out of my previous comment for reasons of space to paste it into another comment, then accidentally overwrote the clipboard. Sorry, I’ll have to do it again sometime.

  5. Sue Dobbs says:

    Your previous blog post on “Court Secrecy” (which makes very interesting reading, by the way) states that it is a longer version of an article published in the Times. The fact that you have blogged the article means that I have been able to read an interesting piece of journalism on an important topic without needing to go behind the Times paywall. If you had not blogged it I would never have read it. The motivation for journalists to blog their work in order to ensure that it continues to be read by a broad readership undermines the paywall model.

  6. The reason I subscribe to a (hard-copy) newspaper, the Telegraph every day, is because I find it far better for reading full articles, it is more flexible to use (in bed, on the loo, in a cafe, etc) and the annual cost is a no-brainer deal. That does not mean I am, in my head, paying for content; that I can get on-line for free. I am ‘paying’ for the physical item.

    I do not read from the ‘main-stream’ news on the web or in print because they are without inaccurate rumour or propaganda – far from it. I read the main-stream media precisely because it is chock full brimming to bursting point with punch-pulling reporting – lies and propaganda. Then at least I know what it is we are expected to be thinking.

    I hope Heather Brooke is right and the Times start to publish more meaningful investigative reporting. But why would they start now? If they were free to or desired to they could have done so and pushed the Telegraph off of the No1 print sales podium years ago.

    The strength of seeking news from the web is ability to trawl a very wide net to gain a broad understanding with clarity. It requires the desire and ability to ask questions and seek answers. The last thing I am going to do is pay for all my news to come from one establishment mouth-piece via the web. That would be like having a great kitchen with access to any ingredient from all around the world and then always eating M&S oven ready dinners.

  7. Josef says:

    Heather, in Skagit County, WA, USA – we got the Skagit Valley Herald. The SVH posts excerpts and allows comments… but puts many stories plus fine details behind a paywall. We just aren’t big enough to support an ad-based newspaper 7/52 in Skagitonia.

    Of course if you wrote for it… and posed for it :-)… everybody would wait for the next masterstroke of genius liberty thundering down upon the Brutopicracy :-).

    Oh well, keep firing. I think many, many Americans want to be like you.

  8. heather says:

    Thanks for your comments.

    In the UK there is almost an inverse ratio of facts to the money earned by the writer. Investigative pieces take weeks, months, five years in the case of MPs expenses.Yet if you are a freelancer (as I am) you are paid only for the articles published.

    News is expensive in terms of time, resources and legal risk. The more investigative the piece the more costly it is to publish for these reasons. At some point, people will understand that if they want quality in-depth reporting they will have to pay for it.

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