Reporter bias contaminates paywall coverage

There is a subtle but deeply wrong bias woven into much of the newspaper reports and columns about budding efforts to charge users for access to online news.

More often than not, the writers state as historical fact that newspapers made a “fatal miscalculation” in not charging for news long ago — and thus it’s difficult now because readers are “accustomed” to free news. (Those phrases are from this LA Times story by Joe Flint but you’ll find them in many newspaper reports. This new one from the New York Times’ Richard Perez-Pena and TIm Arango says “consumers became accustomed to the sweet, steady flow of free news” and the “free ride” might end.)

Flint states: “There is a general consensus that putting content on the Internet for free — d’oh! — may not have been the brightest idea.”

Such views are certainly questionable. Many DID try to charge early and failed, as Steve Yelvington among many has noted, and many including me and Wired’s Chris Anderson will tell you there’s no economic sense to charging for general online news in its present form.

In addition to being inaccurate, these unsupported assumptions reveal the writers’ contemptuous view of their audience as a bunch of lazy, unappreciative freeloaders who don’t know how lucky they are to have us. If news publishers want to survive, they need the opposite approach — respect and listen to your users’ sense of content value, and get past your sense of entitlement.

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