Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Paywall
I contribute a weekly column to the Platte County Landmark under the “Rambling Moron” name. It’s a great Northland Newspaper and well worth a subscription. The following is an copy of my article which appeared in the 1/2/13 edition – printed with permission.
MR. GORBACHEV, TEAR DOWN THIS PAYWALL
Like many of you, I grew up with the Kansas City Star. But also like many of you, we likely grew up as less of a consumer of its content than our parents before us. For a point of reference, I can still remember getting both the Kansas City Times and the Star and my son has never picked up a paper at age 10, and does his current events homework on news.google.com. I also am heavy consumer of online content which includes RSS feeds, News and Sports Apps on my phone and iPad in addition to whatever happens to be blinking on my computer at work or home. From time to time, though, I will still pick up a paper and remember back to when my father rushed home after work and read the entire Star cover to cover while watching the evening news. When I do read the paper, it’s 99% in online form.
Internet news has had a difficult time making any sort of money when much of that same content is offered free on blogs or a competitor’s website. Plus, the mount of news that Huffington Post or Tony’s Kansas City cranks out would fill 5 daily newspapers. Sum it all up and this means that the Kansas City Star is dying. You will see the final “Star” masthead roll off the presses in your lifetime.
This week, the Star took one more step towards its destiny. They erected a “paywall” they call Star+. It basically offers a couple of larger stories for free on their homepage, but if you want to read past the “front page” you need to pay a small fee. Some see this as the beginning of the end of not just the Kansas City Star, but the end of “free” journalism. The end of journalism then devolves to the end of government oversight, then the end of civilization in general.
I won’t go quite that far. I think it’s the beginning of the age of “hyper-local” news. If the KC Star would write MORE articles about Platte County and what’s going on in my neighborhood, I’ll give them my money. But if they won’t, I’ll get my national news from CNN and ESPN (which have had subtle and successful paywalls in place for years and can also offset those revenues through larger corporate advertising) and my local news from hyper-local journalists like this here Landmark. The Star is in the worst of all positions simply due to its size. Big enough that it is sinking to the bottom of the ocean, but not small enough to be ignored by the sharks. Unfortunately, this paywall means they’re filling their pockets with rocks in an effort to see how fast they can drown.
Furthermore, I see that Handsome Local Columnist X with a twitter account and a traditional subscriber model now has nearly the same level of influence as a Star Columnist X with a larger following but separated by a paywall. Regardless of whether he’s a better writer, more handsome and smells like flowers on a spring day. Good for Ned…er… Landmark Columnist X. Bad for The Star. I see it as a gross miscalculation. But if they were truly in a corner between closing the paper and making a last-ditch effort to balance the books, I guess one has to do what one has to do.
In the meantime, I encourage you to support the provider of news (and their advertisers) that best suits your needs and habits. If all you read is ESPN, sign up for their “Insider” account. If all you read is Tony’s KC Blog, then throw him a couple bucks. Same goes if you like the regional approach of the Kansas City Star. And if hyper-local news is your cup of tea… oversight of local school districts, city council meetings and high school sports, then consider buying a subscription (or two or three) to the Platte County Landmark. Maybe Ivan will take some of those dollars and improve the online offerings at plattecountylandmark.com – or maybe he’ll just use it to pay for other newspapers’ paywalls to keep up on the competition.
And you might also keep an eye out for when the last Kansas City Star rolls off the presses.