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Paywalls – boon or bane?

By: Lucy Morrissey

Reading the news is important. So is paying for it. While not every student sifts through the news online every morning while sipping his or her coffee, it’s probable that most have raised their eyebrows and griped at the sight of a pay wall at least once or twice.

Quit grumbling and think about what perfect sense it makes to pay the price. Times are changing and so must we, as journalists and students but also as informed citizens.

In the past couple of years, more news sites are constructing pay walls, blocking the viewer from reading more than a few articles unless he or she pays a monthly fee. It’s now virtually impossible to read the Ottawa Citizen online without the site fading to black and a big box appearing, blocking the text until the reader pays just under $10 per month.

According to the Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media 2012, the number of people taking to the World Wide Web to read the news has surged and, parallel to this, the newspaper industry has declined by 43 per cent since 2000, with ad revenue and print circulation plummeting. According to a 2010 Statistics Canada study, most people (68 per cent to be exact) using the Internet are doing so either to bank or read the news.

Some might argue perhaps users get their news elsewhere, thus to have a pay wall on a news site is a futile effort to profit. However, according to the same Pew Research study, most users click onto the direct news site more than any other outlet, including social media sites.

Simply put, people are reading online what was once laid out on paper and turning a profit.Students could at one time take for granted news archives stored online at no cost; in that case there is no immediate need to grab a paper or read daily. If they needed to look into something that happened, for an assignment let’s say, they could rest assured they could do so when they needed to.

This lack of urgency can make for an ill-informed student body and, at the same time, an ill-informed citizenry. Considering most sites allow access to a limited number of articles, readers don’t necessarily have the luxury of looking back and obtaining all the information. If they’ve paid to have that access though, they’ll likely use it regardless of an absolute need.

Surely no student would choose to waste potential bus fare.

That being said, education is expensive. Students pay thousands of dollars for tuition and textbooks, digging themselves deep into debt. They know that knowledge is power though and accept the price of progress. Education is expensive, yes, but evidently worth it.

Boning up on the news every day is a form of education that can be acquired by anyone with an Internet connection willing to pay a couple of bucks. There’s no application process and no refusal letters. Subscribing to an online newspaper is but a small price to pay to gain knowledge valuable for a lifetime.

News is valuable. Behind the text, the images and the video, men and women work tirelessly to get the news to you. Because readers are moving online, news industry professionals are doing the same. It makes sense that viewers pay for the same content online that they paid for on paper.

Today, Internet users can bring books, boots and technological toys into their homes in a matter of minutes. Shoppers once scoured the store and shelled out for goods. Even if merchandise is viewed online, that online service comes with a price. News content should be no exception in fuelling an economy that affects everyone.

The Pew Research study addressed the attempt to rid negativity associated with pay walls, as plain and simple restriction, and pointed to subscription bundles for print subscribers. These bundles incorporate digital content and allow access from a mobile device among other perks.

This effort suggests news organizations aren’t money-hungry and out to get their readers with pay walls. The news industry and its professionals simply must stay afloat in the days of digital.

The Algonquin Times is a newspaper produced by journalism students for the Algonquin College community.

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