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Husker News: No Longer Free As World Herald And Lincoln Journal Star Implement Paywalls

When I think of the people who run the newspaper business, these guys come to mind.
When I think of the people who run the newspaper business, these guys come to mind.

As of yesterday you no longer have free (as in beer) access to the best Husker news on the Internet. The Lincoln Journal Star, owned by Lee Enterprises, has implemented a paywall, stating:

To bring you the quality of newspaper you deserve and the online news and innovation you demand, effective today we will begin charging online readers a small fee for unlimited access to our website. Journal Star seven-day subscribers will get a special, lower price.

It will work like this: In any 30-day period, you'll have access to up to 10 views of locally produced content. Advertisements, contests and national and international news will not count toward those 10 views.

After those 10 views, you'll be asked to purchase an online subscription. For seven-day subscribers to the Journal Star, the price will be $1.95 per month. For others, it will cost just $9.95 per month. After 30 days, your meter returns to zero stories, and the count starts again.

This puts the LJS in line with the Omaha World Herald, which moved behind a paywall a few months ago, but apparently in such a secretive way that you can't find anything about it from search engines (I'm not going to spend a lot of time on the Omaha. com site looking for the link, sorry).

The initial reaction to this change appears to be: "I won't be reading these sites anymore, I'll just stick with what's still free on the internet."

There are a couple of problems with that philosophy.

First, paywalls are going to become a fact of life for more and more news sites as more of them succumb to the philosophy of "you can't pay me if I don't charge you" and because the newspaper industry is dying at a faster, more alarming rate than ever. You can argue all you want about how they've waited so long that they've allowed users to become accustomed to not paying for news, but they have to do something to stem the tide of blood.

You could also argue the point of whether or not paywalls will work, but more importantly, it raises the question of whether or not the content is worth paying for. That argument I'll leave (mostly) to y'all in the comments section.

My reaction?

Despite the fact that CN will probably benefit from the change, I find it amazing and sad that it's taken the newspaper industry this long to do something, anything, to keep themselves from dying.

Background - I wrote in the computer industry for around 20 years. Authored a book, co-authored a couple more (chapters), years of magazine articles. Hell, I used to be able to sit down and do an article and get paid pretty well for only a few hours work (if you're a computer industry guy and you can put a paragraph together that explains technology, you're worth gold in that industry).

When blogging arrived, all of the magazines I wrote for went out of business in about a year and a half. That was around the 2000-2002 time frame. Geeks no longer needed magazines since other geeks around the world started freely (as in speech) sharing their information.

A decade later, and the newspaper industry is still trying to figure this out. In the meantime, they've allowed news to be taken over by bloggers (like us) and social media like Facebook and Twitter.

You could argue that if newspapers would have had the foresight to start blogging in the first place, that sites like Corn Nation might not exist. Newspapers would have owned that space. Instead, they violated one of Tom Peters' basic business principles (Thriving on Chaos, paraphrased) - "you'd better figure out how to obsolete yourself, because if you don't, someone else will".

What have newspapers done to make themselves obsolete in the decade since my old magazine publishers went out of business? Next to nothing. For a whole decade for crying out loud. It leaves you with the conclusion that they may collectively be the dumbest business people on the planet.

The whole damned lot of them must be zero-sum thinkers and that concept boggles my mind. Think about that for a minute. Newspapers didn't embrace the web early on because they thought it would cannibalize their print dollars. Then they later panicked and put everything online for free because they realized someone else was eating their print dollars anyway.

The people eating their dollars innovated by creating mobile editions, gobbling up more revenue. The newspapers didn't innovate unless forced. They didn't realize that people might buy print AND read online on computers and mobile devices, consuming even more of their content (hence, zero sum) for which they could have charged.

No, instead they sat on their collective hands for a whole friggin' decade, basically doing nothing, and all the while their consumer base became ingrained with the though that news should be free (as in beer).

Okay, enough of that.

This article really doesn't have a whole lot to do with Husker football, per se, but it does leave me as site manager of Corn Nation in a position of wondering what to do. That's where you come in.

I am asking you as a CN community member how you would like us to handle linking to paywalled sites. We're not going to directly bypass their content because that will become obsolete as paywalls get better. That and I consider it unethical - they're still trying make a buck and employ people.

I don't want to make a unilateral decision about how to best handle linking to because I consider this your site, a Nebraska Cornhuskers community site, and decisions like these are best handled by the community. (Which is why there isn't a poll on this article - I want to read your comments.)

Would you rather we not link to and the World Herald at all, and let you handle reading those web sites? Or would you rather we linked with the understanding that you might be consuming some of those precious monthly "views"? Or are their other options that I haven't thought of yet?

It should be noted that SB Nation sites like Corn Nation will not be charging for our content. Our stories will remain free (as in both beer and speech), unless we determine that we can make a bazillion dollars doing it at which point we'll do it so I can quit my day job and do this full time. Maybe. At least I'd think about it.