More thoughts on the Toronto Star's online paywall

Editor’s note: On Monday, Joanna Cabot told us about the Toronto Star’s recent announcement that it would soon be moving its online content behind a paywall. I’m guessing the news must have come as a particularly painful double-punch in Canada, where the The Globe & Mail—perhaps the finest daily newspaper in the country—rolled out a paywall of its own on October 22. 

The Toronto Star, a Canadian daily newspaper In the Toronto Star today, columnist Rosie Dimano sounds off on the announcement this week that the paper is moving to a paywall for online content.

On the negative side, Rosie is a bit of an old curmudgeon type, and admits she’s a dinosaur who doesn’t really care to have a ‘conversation’ with her audience. She writes, you read, the end. That’s old journalism, and it’s on its way out—even if people do start paying for access to newspaper’s websites.

But she does make some valid points: It’s true that it costs money to put out a newspaper, and that it has to be paid for somehow. It’s true, too, that so far, the returns The Star has seen for its investment in online news have been small compared to the money that’s been put in.

But the point Rosie seems to miss is that it’s the kind of content matters. I’m thinking of something along the lines of the annual university rankings issue that Macleans magazine puts out. If you had a short little online teaser for that, and then a link to download the full report for a few dollars, people would do it. But for just plain ol’ regular news? Probably not. They’re competing with the free commuter papers, free radio … heck, they’re even competing with Twitter.

Let me ask you this: Did any of you out there in TeleReadland not know about Hurricane Sandy? In my house, we don’t have newspapersor cable television, and we knew. If a big story is happening, people will hear about it.

So my point stands: If The Star wants people to pay, they need to offer content that is unique and special and different. For the time being, at least, I do think that asking people to pay for regular news is going to be a tough sell indeed.

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About Joanna Cabot (1595 Articles)
"I’m a journalist, a teacher and an e-book fiend. I work as a French teacher at a K-3 private school. I use drama, music, puppets, props and all manner of tech in my job, and I love it. I enjoy moving between all the classes and having a relationship with each child in the school. Kids are hilarious, and I enjoy watching them grow and learn. My current device of choice for reading is my Amazon Kindle Touch, but I have owned or used devices by Sony, Kobo, Aluratek and others. I also read on my tablet devices using the Kindle app, and I enjoy synching between them, so that I’m always up to date no matter where I am or what I have with me."

2 Comments on More thoughts on the Toronto Star's online paywall

  1. Despite some newspaper claims of being “The Newspaper of Record”, most newspapers are about local stuff, not nationla or international stories — so the example of Hurricane Sandy isn’t truly relevant. However, where The Star could bring relevance to a story like Hurricane Sandy is in depth coverage of local impacts: outages caused by the storm here, or tales of woe and bedlam by Toronto residents stuck in the US storm. That’s a role that neither websites nor cable television provide (although CP24 and CityNews TV stations clearly address this … if you have cable). So, there is value in a well-designed local newspaper paywall website.

  2. Totally agree with Alexander. Local newspapers can survive if they focus on those things the national papers will never replace – local news, local sports, local opinion, etc.

    Here in CT we have the Hartford Courant which I still subscribe to (on weekends). I’ve watched them over the years slash the paper down to a shell of its former self. They dumped all the old-time journalists who knew the state and its people and replaced them with either generic content from the AP or more ads. The Courant today is easily 50% full of ads (which I completely ignore).

    I’m sure they’ll blame their declining readership on the Internet. But even there they can’t get it right. Take a look at their cluttered confusing website if you want to see how NOT to present local news on the web.

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