Monday, November 29, 2010

From WikiLeaks to paywalls...

WHAT does the extraordinary release over the last few weeks by WikiLeaks of reams and reams of confidential information—the latest is a batch released today of around 250,000 United States diplomatic cables—mean for the media? Embarrassed governments will no doubt level accusations of irresponsible, even dangerous, headline-grabbing. Ordinary citizens will probably react with a mix of cynicism and amazement.

But the commercial question is whether the forest of newsprint devoted to the WikiLeaks' revelations will actually lead to a sustained increase in circulation for the five newspapers given privileged access to the material: the New York Times in America, the Guardian in Britain, Le Monde in France, El Pais in Spain and Der Spiegel in Germany.

Sadly for print journalism, Cassandra suspects any boost in sales will be temporary. The trend, especially among the young, is for news increasingly to be delivered by the computer and smart-phone screen rather than by the printed page. Already Americans use the internet more than newspapers to get their news. So how will the newspapers stay in business? The answer in 2011 is not just that they will smarten up their websites but also that more and more will put those sites—or part of them—behind a paywall. By January or February, even the "gray lady" herself, the New York Times, will be behind a paywall. The question then will be how many will continue, like the Guardian, to resist this "user pays" trend.

International Institute for ICT Journalism

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