What’s the real cost of the Paywall?

OPINION: I’ve been thinking, a lot, about Rupert Murdoch’s crusade to get News International’s online news content behind a paywall. There are arguments on the pro’s and con’s on both sides (pro: research intensive specialist content like Wall Street Journal and FT.com) but it will come as no surprise that I think the creation and sharing of information should not, on the whole, be confined by the rules of a single organisation.

I also think this shines a light on a far bigger issue. Old school media is on its knees because it’s still playing by old school rules and the discussion of a paywall only compounds this.

The thing is, everything changed in the mid to late 1990’s with the arrival of Lycos, Yahoo, Altavista and then of course, Google. Hurtle forward 15 years and you’re seeing mainstream media in a panic. So what do they do? They default back to the only solution they know: force ’em to pay.

But will they? In a recent survey, only 5% of UK respondents said they were prepared to pay for online news while 74% said they would find another free site.

Also take it on a step further – if you force people to pay, might it actually isolate mainstream media from the rest of the mobile phone wielding, podcasting, image sharing, video uploading, networked world; a world where a single image posted to a (free) social media site can change the political direction of an entire nation?

As founder of an online civic media site, I am bound to say that. After all, I want our platform to challenge the view that news, information and opinion have always to come from one source. These days we can all engage in the news process in a way that frees us from hierarchical mechanisms – primarily thanks to technology.

Mumbai massacre, Hudson River plane crash, Iran elections, Zimbabwe farm razings, Michael Jackson’s death: these stories were broken by “ordinary” people, for free and without limitation.

So for me, the answer is simple: collaborate.

Just think about the millions of other stories and events that go unreported in this world every day – where leads and eyewitness accounts can help build a whole picture and dare I say, force change where change is needed.

I fundamentally believe mainstream news organisations and the thousands of professional journalists play a vital role in this world – and here is an opportunity for them to reinforce their relevance. They can help make sense of the senseless. They can find the voice of reason in the sonic boom of hyperbole. Surely mainstream media would be giving their right arm for a piece of this crowd-sourced action?

Of course, I hope indiconews will be the place for such collaboration, where established news organisations and the general public can work together in the creation and delivery of news.

That’s why we set up the platform: instead of excluding people, the ones who in essence MAKE the news, we should, no, must, include them in the news agenda. Empower them, engage with them, embrace them. Give them the tools, the platform, the opportunity to represent their communities, to create new ones, share their experiences and then bring them into your news gathering process.

Why? Because we’re going to do it with or without you anyway.

Maybe Murdoch will prove he can make his paywall work. Then again, maybe his organisation should be careful not to cut off its nose to spite its face.

Elizabeth Hodgson – Indiconews.com founder

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