Posted by: Ciaran | November 3, 2009

Free to a good home – for the time being

Last week we here at Cardiff School of Journalism had lectures from Adam Tinworth, head of blogging at Reed Business Information, and Rodney Pinder, Director of the International News Safety Institute.  While the two lectures were very different, they both touched on the issue of pay walls.

And on this issue, too, they were very different.  Adam’s viewpoint was that internet users organise themselves into spaces: when they start using the worldwide web they hide out in their private spaces, like personal profiles, before first moving into public spaces controlled by other hosts and then finally ending up in distributed spaces where they are in control of a transient process (the sphere of social media).

Pay walls are essentially at the heart of the private space, and therefore Adam’s argument was that users will not make the centripetal movement from their unencumbered community profile in the distributed space back into the private, hidden space behind pay walls.

Rodney’s argument was very different.  Free journalism is not practical, he argued.  “Who pays the journalist’s wages?” he said.  But unfortunately, users wanting everything for free is the direction in which media is turning.  Rodney himself pointed to the example of two trainee journalists whom he had spoken to earlier in the year who said they would not be prepared to pay for content.

And it is no surprise.  The ascent of citizen journalism combined with the consumption culture of social media means that access to news is now wider than ever, and unless all truly reliable sources put up pay walls (not likely with a publicly-funded body such as the BBC, for instance) then those that do run the risk of failure.

As Adam pointed out, sites no longer want to keep people glued to their page; in a hypermedia age that is almost impossible.  So trying to incarcerate someone behind a pay wall and become an exclusive source rather than a jumping-off point is to go completely against the grain.


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