Pay-To-Play News

by John Washington on August 12, 2012

It has been coming for sometime [ScottsdaleTrails: Shrinking Republic], but the Arizona Republic has just announced it will institute a paywall system for AZCentral.com in September 2012.

Euphemistically called, “Full Access,” and priced at $10 per month, it will allow non-subscribers to view a few articles. After that, subscription is required.

Republic Media CEO John Zidich says,

Our success is due to one thing: the commitment to great content with a well-rounded news report and a primary focus on deep, quality local stories. Our newsroom — by far the largest newsgathering organization in Arizona — brings you the state’s best coverage. Breaking news 24 hours a day. Rich photo and video content. Great storytelling. Deep analysis.

“Deep analysis,” is not a term I would have used to describe the Republic’s news coverage. And, I think, the size of the newsroom isn’t nearly so much of an asset, as the size (and quality) of the editorial staff is a liability.

On today’s electronic frontier, time is not your friend. Printing cycles and oppressive editorial review work against you. It’s important to get the facts right before going to press, but if you don’t get the facts right anyway then what purpose is served by electronically publishing content on a paper-and-ink schedule?

The Arizona Republic had the market cornered when the East Valley Tribune folded the Scottsdale Edition. Did that make them complacent. I don’t think that was all the problem.

We’re committed to covering our community and being a part of it.

I know that in journalism, neutrality is an aspiration more than a rule. Just as separating the business end (advertising) from the newsroom is a balancing act rather than reality. If you can’t sell ads, you can’t pay the writers and all the other employees.

However, as I described in my article about the Republic’s tepid endorsement of Jim Lane, the real problem here is that the folks at the top of the Republic [Zidich, Michael Ryan] got a little too enamored with the idea of “being part of” the community, to the detriment of “covering it.”

Reading the newspaper is a hard habit to break. However, in this age of increasingly rich, rapidly delivered electronic content and every decreasing leisure time, once the habit is broken we won’t miss it.

And with all the electronic competition, the Republic is going to have to do a much better job delivering on their mission if they are going to avoid the electronic abyss.

Watch out, boys (and girls), the Independent has your number.

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