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University of Missouri

Delivering News-PAY-pers

Journalism Professor Mike Jenner expects more newspapers to begin charging for digital content.

Dollar bill image on an iPad.

Photo illustration by Stu Taylor.

Although The New York Times made a splash in March 2011 when it started charging for some online content, smaller newspapers are at the forefront of the “pay wall” trend.

A national survey of more than 300 newspapers by Mike Jenner, Houston Harte Chair in Journalism, found that 46 percent of papers with circulations under 25,000 charge for some online content, whereas only 24 percent of larger papers do so. The number of papers with a pay wall is likely to rise across the board, Jenner says, and readers can expect to pay more for quality news in the coming years.

The newspaper industry “has gone off the economic cliff” in recent years as companies have reduced print advertising budgets in favor of less expensive online campaigns, Jenner says. “Many newspapers have seen revenues cut by one half during the past four years. Some staffs have been cut so deeply that they can’t produce their own quality news.
Instead, they are delivering bare bones reports from police blotters, city council meetings and the like.”

The tough times are fostering innovation, however. Readers who like to consume news on the fly may benefit from a coming surge in mobile news apps that publishers are preparing as part of their scramble for new income streams. In this aspect, readers in larger markets are seeing the most changes. Papers with more than 25,000 circulation lead in apps for mobile phones (62 percent) and tablets (38 percent), compared to smaller papers’ apps for phones (21 percent) and tablets (9 percent). Before long, most readers will have access to mobile apps, though more than one-third of papers plan to charge for this offering.

Jenner hopes the mobile apps appeal to people who are not dedicated news consumers. “Supporters of newspapers are mostly older people, and we need to continue reaching out to new audiences,” he says.