One Paywall to Rule Them All?

Two days ago, I wrote about another local newspaper becoming part of the APG chain. See Another Newspaper in the Shredder.

It’s possible that these acquisitions will lead to an area-wide paywall, and perhaps even a strong paywall (hard to get around even with advances in incognito browsing).

The theory, one supposes, is that the chain’s paywall would operate as news cartel, where readers would have no choice save to pay to read news behind that one wall to rule them all.

It’s a strategy sure to fail, just as Sauron’s one ring to rule them all was a failed strategy.

Far, far too few people will pay either a local paper or a chain publication for the kind of weak reporting that’s been standard fare in rural communities. When a publisher dares readers to take it or leave it, the answer is that they’ll leave it. That is, in fact, what’s led local family-owned papers to go under; few paid for pabulum.

That makes one wonder if the APG acquisitions are truly a long-term proposition, or if they’re simply the scheme of a private company with a less candid version of a media-buying hedge fund’s drain-and-discard approach.

A preliminary hunch: these papers are all headed for an abattoir, although perhaps on a slower schedule than would have been true under a hedge fund.

A few more observations:

1. If local papers are in trouble, so is local government: few residents will pay to read stories that are little more than press releases, leaving officials without an otherwise common-but-fading aura of press respectability.

2. If local officials can’t rely on widely available press-reworkings of their claims, then they’ll have to write unassisted. Most officials aren’t good at writing on their own – years of relying on others to boost their claims have left them weak in style and argumentation (worse even than the quality of local newspapers’ efforts).

This is an inviting opportunity for rural residents “to craft their own publications, of their own views, from their own means, under their own control, publishing independently of others’ political or economic influence.”

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