The year 2012 has seen Vermont’s two biggest daily newspaper operations (the Freeploid and the Herald/Times Argus) erect paywalls on their websites, restricting access to paid subscribers. (The ‘Loid allows nonsubscribers free access to ten stories a month, so think before you click.)
And another paper is about to join them: the Valley News, which covers the NH and VT sides of the Upper Valley area. Until now, the Valley News has had a very limited Web presence — a handful of articles available free online, but no online access at all to the rest of the paper.
Well, the Valley News has a new website which includes all the paper’s content plus online-only content. It’s all available free for an unspecified but limited trial period, and then it goes behind The Wall.
I’ve chosen to subscribe to the Freeploid and the Times Argus, but I won’t be paying for the Valley News. Even though I have occasionally found interesting stories there. (One of them will be in my weekly Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down post on Monday.)
Paywalls seem to be an inevitable tactic for daily newspapers trying to make up for the loss of advertising dollars. But each new paywall closes off another source of local news. In Vermont, we’re down to VTDigger, Seven Days, and the scattershot coverage of broadcast outlets VPR, WCAX, and WPTZ, plus occasional gleanings from the likes of the Brattleboro and Bennington papers.
It’s hard to criticize newspapers that resort to paywalls. I certainly don’t envy them the task of trying to make daily journalism pay. But we’re getting less and less information into the public sphere, and that’s not a good thing. I hope someone somewhere figures out a way to turn a profit on good-quality reporting. We need it.