Newspaper columnist quits over paywall

Saul Friedman, a long-standing Newsday columnist, has quit the paper over its decision to implement a paywall, pointing out that by charging $5/week for readers, they'll drastically cut his audience size (and, presumably, the present and future opportunities that having a large audience afford to a working writer). I doubt he'll be the last. Last month at the O'Reilly Tools of Change conference at the Frankfurt Book Fair, someone asked a representative from The Guardian newspaper (for whom I write a column) if they would consider charging for access to the site, and I pointed out that I would no longer offer The Guardian such a hefty discount off my normal word-rate if this were the case. It's worth it to me to write for lower fees in exchange for the broader reach, but if you eliminate that reach, the benefit to me as a writer starts to dry up.

I wonder if newspaper strategists grasp that they get a lot of work on the cheap in exchange for the reach they provide to their writers, and that intentionally limiting that reach will raise their costs. I also wonder at newspaper strategists who, having decided that they can't monetize fame, have opted to monetize obscurity instead, seemingly in the belief that this will somehow be easier.

That did not sit well with Mr. Friedman, a freelancer who wrote Gray Matters, a weekly column on aging. He explained his departure in a note to Jim Romenesko's media blog. In an interview, Mr. Friedman said, "My column has been popular around the country, but now it was really going to be impossible for people outside Long Island to read it." That includes him; living outside Washington, he is not a subscriber to Newsday or Cablevision.

Mr. Friedman, who is 80, said he would continue to write about older people for the site, but he called his decision an end to more than 50 years in newspapers. He wrote for Newsday for more than 20 years, including several years as a staff writer in its Washington bureau.

Columnist Quits After Newsday Starts Charging for Its Web Site (via /.)


  1. I get that paywalls probably won’t work.

    I don’t get the need to mock newspapers and other publications for trying paywalls, because the way they are doing it now will definitely not work.

  2. That ends my subscription to Newsday, when it expires I will not renew it. But I will now read
    This is not because I value Saul Friedman that much, but that I, as a 78 year old, have just realized recently how much media is changing, and how little value newspapers put on their greatest resource: Experienced investigative reporters. Without good journalists, newspapers will not exist. I will never own a kindle, and I have recently started reading news on my computer. I love newspapers, but recently they have fallen more than a little flat.

    My grandchildren introduced me to boing boing, and I read it every second day.oobs scaled oops that verification thing confused me. this is my first computer comment

  3. Newspapers are facing two problems:

    1. The failure to realize that the product of their present business model is readers, not journalism.

    2. Insane manufacturing and distribution costs (this will vary by market and masthead).

    One paper that seems to be successfully transitioning to a post-ink model is the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which appears to be morphing into a local blog plus news video site. One of their ideas is a delaywall, where paying subscribers get to read news as it’s posted, but non payees can get the news after it gets a bit stale, like the 20m delay on stock prices, or yesterday’s bread.

    Will it be enough? *shrug* Who knows, butit’s quite apparent that newspapers of the future will have no priont runs, no delivery trucks, and a shrunken ad sales stuff, depending oon how much of there work can be automated.

  4. It’s difficult to cite something that’s behind a paywall… the other person who’s reading your words cannot check it themselves in context without either paying to get behind the paywall, or else, you providing an illegal copy of what you are citing..

  5. This sounds a lot like the Tivo snippet above – the industry makes a lot of self-destructive decisions in an attempt to maintain control. But in doing so it hastens its demise.

    Can we be comforted by the hope that what happens after the implosion is better than what used to be there?

  6. On the other hand–there are writers who are not brand names, for whom exposure or “broader reach” is not particularly valuable, and who therefore prefer to be paid up front in actual money. What income-generating mechanism is going to supply the wherewithal for that? My last good tech-journalism gig evaporated when the parent corporation folded the paper magazine into its online gateway site. Now instead of features researched and written by independent writers, there are blog-like pieces produced by PR flacks and industry consultants.

    I recognize the value to the reading and researching public of open sources, but while information might want to be free, the labor required to produce and maintain it can’t be. Unless your model is Wikipedia or the blogosphere.

  7. What will a paywall do to Fair Use (continuing Manicbassman’s thought)? If you want to quote or cite something, how do you do it? Will this remove a whole level of journalism from access? No student will voluntarily pay for the ability to cite something for a paper; they’ll either circumvent the blocks somehow or go to a different source, maybe less valuable, but free.

  8. “1. The failure to realize that the product of their present business model is readers, not journalism.”

    Everyone in journalism understands that. The problem is nobody is willing to pay enough for readers to support a news organization.

  9. I remember folks torched through a similar song in the late 70’s, as fax machines became more mainstream, they became certain that postal mail would be dead by the 80’s.Some back then said,”Why mail when you can fax it?”. Postal workers thought they would soon be losing their jobs. Print papers will become more refined and specific. Leaving the bullshit non-news writing for bloggers or freebee net publications. Real news and journalism will be at a premium price. How else will professional reporters get paid. People will pay for news they really need. The rest is just entertainment. Those who exploit user generated content on line will burn out once those users realize they are being USED.

  10. the industry is finding it is less expensive to simply provide commentary in lieu of reporting and the public perceives commentary as though it were reporting.

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