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The News Tip: Don't Listen To Naysayers
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The News Tip: Don't Listen To Naysayers
The News Tip: Don't Listen To Naysayers
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Getting people to pay for news online isn't easy, but back in March, The New York Times gave it a shot. Their online subscription model lets readers access 20 articles a month and then you have to pay a fee to see more. The pay wall was seen as a risky move at the time, but the Gray Lady's third-quarter profits are in, and the results are better than expected. The paper's profits are up and The Times has seen a boost in digital subscribers. To hash out what this means for the industry, NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik is back with us. And, David, what's this week's news tip?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: I would say that it - you know, to steal a page from the late Steve Jobs' book - this week's news tip should be: if you only listen to the naysayers, you'll never succeed.

CORNISH: And, David, you know, the website, Business Insider, ran some numbers and found that before the pay wall, a New York Times print reader was worth 228 times as much as an online reader. And so no matter how much money they're making with this porous pay wall, can it really close that gap between the worth of the print and the online reader?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I think it's worth doing a couple of things and thinking about that. First off, it's worth remembering the prevailing wisdom has been that information on the Web wants to be free, and you can't charge people for news as a commodity online; that only specialized financial information and reporting and sports coverage for the most passionate football or baseball fans really induce people to open their wallets and pay for it. But on the day that The Times put up its pay wall, we invited here into our studios in New York two people. One of them is Gordon Crovitz. He's the past publisher of The Wall Street Journal. He's also the head of a group called Press Plus, that's helping news organizations around the country put up their own pay walls. Here's how he explained what the challenge was for news organizations and why it was important to charge people online.

GORDON CROVITZ: Ad revenues are, over time, I'm confident, will continue to decline and will not support quality journalism. There'd have to be other revenue streams. And the most typical one has always been letting the most loyal, avid readers help cover the expense.

FOLKENFLIK: And advertisers, I think it's worth pointing out, do pay attention to the most loyal readers and particularly, as translated in the idea of paying online readers, they're going to value that a lot more than they did people who just click on a site by randomly coming across it. That is intention, however, with this underlying philosophical argument expressed by many, including Emily Bell. She's the director of digital journalism up at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism here in New York. She's also the past head of all the digital operations of the Guardian newspaper, which is based in the U.K.

EMILY BELL: It was about to get the Guardian's journalism in front of as many people as possible so that they would value it in a different way. And I think that there are so many ways now where by we can measure whether a piece of journalism is regarded as quality or good or valuable, which doesn't necessarily have a monetary unit attached to it.

FOLKENFLIK: Now, it's worth pointing out the Times, of course, allows you to access or share a certain amount of articles a month before the pay wall kicks in. But I did ask Emily Bell about what she thought some months later about how it had fared. Her response - short, cryptic - was, quote, "still too early to tell and what's success?"

CORNISH: What about the local papers, and what does this mean for the average news reader?

FOLKENFLIK: What it really means is you're starting to see a proliferation of such experimentations occurred around the country - in Dallas, in Providence, in the Baltimore Sun; Allentown, Pennsylvania, a smaller newspaper. A lot of mid- and smaller-size news organizations are saying we need to figure out a way to do this.

CORNISH: So, David, the news tip?

FOLKENFLIK: If you only listen to the naysayers, you'll never succeed. You cannot be afraid to fail. It's a time of experimentation in the news business.

CORNISH: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Thanks so much.


CORNISH: If you want to drop us a news tip, visit - all one word. You can also follow us on Twitter: @DavidFolkenflik and @NPRAudie.

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