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Abundance of Digital Info Could Signal End of Newspapers

The New York Times establishes paywall to help boost its bottom line

To counter severe losses, The New York Times has established a paywall which requires that subscribers pay to read the newspaper online.
To counter severe losses, The New York Times has established a paywall which requires that subscribers pay to read the newspaper online.

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Penelope Poulou

As major news organizations raced to publish stories on the latest Wikileaks documents about prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, they were competing yet again against websites uploading raw data.   

Andrew Rossi, who made the documentary "Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times," looks at the media and warns that the tsunami of digital information could spell the end of even the most respected newspapers.

"And particularly the threat is to traditional investigative reporting and journalism which takes place in institutions like The New York Times," says Rossi, who argues the dissemination of information online could threaten quality journalism. "I think that the idea of the democratization of information flow is really exciting. But there is also something to be said for a process that involves editors and writers and sort of the filtering of information in checking and in making sure that it's accurate. Something that the blogosphere doesn't always provide."

According to Rossi, free flowing news on the Internet has killed newspapers around the world and had an impact on the New York Times itself. The paper's circulation and revenues from ads are down.  Some journalists have been laid off. As a result, content can suffer.

But Amy Eisman, professor of journalism at American University, disagrees.

"Look at what happened in Japan. You have this devastation. In fact, through the last couple of months, our world has gone through some intense geophysical, political, economic changes like we've never seen. And we have more sources of information coming to us. Some of these sources are inaccurate. But some of these sources we never would have heard from before."

Eisman believes regardless of what happens to newspapers, good reporting will live on.

"You're gonna see many more journalists that will be sort of independent freelancers. And they may get a lot of people to give them money to go to Iraq, and then they will sell their story to VOA or sell their story to the New York Times or they may sell their story to a university."  

Paul Sparrow, senior vice president for Broadcasting at the Newseum in Washington D.C., says  established newsrooms need to employ their own reporters.   

"You have to pay a journalist to go into a war zone. You have to pay a journalist to cover the city council or the zoning board meetings. That's the struggle news organizations face right now: to support the newsroom, journalists who are on the ground doing the work, as the revenue stream continues to decline."

Sparrow says, until now,  brands like the New York Times have been competing not only against the massive flow of digital information but also against free-of-charge information online.

Recently, The New York Times established what's called a paywall.  People will have to subscribe and pay to read the paper online.  The papers has reportedly signed about 100,000 subscribers - barely enough to help balance the accounts.  

"The question about Paywall, is the brand valuable enough to make you want to pay for that information? Because you know that if you’re getting it from that source, it’s verified, it’s accurate, you can count on it," says Sparrow of the Newseum. "You’re starting to see a little bit of a transition as the public is becoming more aware of these issues of credibility, or accuracy but are we gonna be able to break through that habit of ‘I want that information for free?’"

It remains to be seen.

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