Hitting the paywall

Information may want to be free, but journalists want to get paid.

The trickle of newspapers and magazines that have erected some type of paywall is likely to grow next year as publications finally decide that charging readers for content, even along some sort of sliding scale (home page, free; columnists, Visa, MasterCard, American Express) no longer amounts to apostasy.

Leading the pack for next year is The Washington Post, which the Columbia Journalism Review recently labeled “the American newspaper industry’s poster child for the folly of clinging to a free digital strategy.”

The paper plans to go with a metered paywall some time in mid-2013.  The success of The New York Times paywall helped eliminate the last pockets of resistance among the paper’s executives, according to the Post’s Steven Mufson. It’s also probably no coincidence that the Post newsroom will soon be led by Marty Baron, who presided over the introduction of The Boston Globe’s pay-now-to-read-more era.

Along with its inside the Beltway politics and policy coverage, the Post still provides robust local reporting on the District, Maryland, and Virginia of the kind that many metro broadsheets have long since dropped, factors that may convince readers to dig into their wallets once the paywall goes up. Media analysts, however, remain divided on whether the move helps or hurts the storied paper.

Other major newspapers going a similar route in 2013 include The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, which plan to launch paywalls sometime in the first quarter.

Paywalls do not necessarily mean that access is forever denied to casual readers. The New York Times demonstrated its willingness to put on its civic hat and temporarily abandon its paywall during crises like Hurricane Sandy, though its decision to allow access for 24 hours beginning Election Day at 6 pm is probably more suspect from the offices where the suits sit.

When Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett acquired Media General’s stable of papers earlier this year he told editors, ”We must rethink the industry’s initial response to the Internet. The original instinct of newspapers … was to offer free in digital form what they were charging for in print. This is an unsustainable model.”

No fool he, Buffett bought “smallish papers in smallish markets where civic participation runs high,” which Forbes concluded means that people are also more likely to pay for news when paywalls go up.

From across the pond, The Economist suggests that the death of American newspapers may be greatly exaggerated. The magazine explains that the advent of Press +, an e-commerce platform has helped publications customize subscription services without breaking the bank and that tablets and smart phones “make digital subscriptions more attractive.”

These two developments have convinced more and more newspaper executives that paywalls can contribute to the bottom line even if digital subscriptions are unlikely produce online ad revenue gains that entirely replace the ad losses on the print side. Which is important for news consumers and journalists with bills to pay and mouths to feed.

                                                                                                    –GABRIELLE GURLEY

BEACON HILL

Tim Cahill’s former campaign manager, Scott Campbell, was acquitted on corruption charges related to use of Lottery ads to boost Cahill’s 2010 gubernatorial bid, but the jury remains deadlocked on charges against Cahill and resumed deliberations this morning.

The state has threatened to cut off funding to 22 local housing authorities that have units that have been vacant longer than 60 days while waiting lists for the affordable housing grow.

State Treasurer Steven Grossman says he plans to seek authority to start launching Lottery games on the Internet, the Associated Press reports (via WBUR).

The secretary of state has ordered the Fall River Community Development Agency to hand over to a city councilor a copy of the contract given to Kenneth Fiola, the executive director of the private Fall River Office of Economic Development, which is partially funded by the CDA.

US Rep. Jim McGovern, caught up in the patronage hiring of a terrible driver for a job in the state’s highway safety bureaucracy, won’t identify his other state job recommendations. McGovern’s office declined to respond to a Herald records request because it’s not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, but the congressman’s spokesman also isn’t answering any questions.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The state Inspector General has determined there was collusion and a conflict of interest between the East Bridgewater fire chief and a contractor in awarding of a contract for a new roof for the fire station in 2007 and in a no-bid deal for snow removal on a school roof last year.

Amesbury approves a higher property tax rate, but the city council isn’t happy about it.

Attleboro eyes a land swap with the Army.

Westminster fights the MBTA over a pile of dirt.

CASINOS

Two casino companies make their pitch to residents in Springfield.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The White House puts corporate tax rates on the fiscal cliff bargaining table.

Outgoing Rep. Barney Frank pushes for defense cuts in an essay for the Atlantic.

Michigan’s governor signs a pair of right-to-work bills, amid raucous protests. The National Review calls it a “modest reform.”

The Wall Street Journal spotlights Rhode Island’s pension reform efforts.

The American Spectator lays out an argument for why House Speaker John Boehner must be replaced and how to do it.

ELECTIONS

Scot Lehigh says Bill Weld would be a better GOP Senate candidate than Scott Brown. Though allowing that Weld wasn’t exactly over-committed to hard work as governor, Lehigh suggests Senate business can be done effectively over collegial dinners. To further reassure a potentially skeptical electorate, he wants those worried about Weld’s imbibing practices to know he has given up the hard stuff in favor of wine.

CHARITY

The Enterprise has a series on the uncertain future of My Turn, the venerable Brockton non-profit that offers assistance to help underprivileged students stay in school and get jobs. The charity’s finances have taken a dive in recent years and one of its cofounders was arrested on an assault charge of a former client.

A new study finds the number of volunteers at charities was at its highest last year of any year since 2005, but the average number of hours people are volunteering annually decreased.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Salem is rallying around a small, independent movie theater, the Salem News says in an editorial.

A New York Times editorial rips federal investigators for settling for a money laundering fine against HSBC, saying prosecutors have taken the notion of too-big-to-fail banks, and also made them too big to jail.

New state rules allowing digital billboards have cities and towns scrambling to regulate the so-called “televisions in the sky.”

EDUCATION

UMass Amherst’s bid to elevate its football program by playing home games at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough has been a bust, the Globe reports, drawing fewer fans than the team did in Amherst and leading to a $715,000 cost overrun for the program. In this CommonWealth Conversation interview last year, new UMass president Robert Caret expressed support for the Foxborough move, but also allowed for the possibility that it won’t work.

The Gloucester Community Arts Charter School says it plans to appeal an expected decisions by state education officials to shut it down, the Gloucester Times reports.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The state Department of Public Utilities is fining three utility companies a total of $25 million for what it says was poor response in restoring customer power following two major storms last year.

A Fairhaven shellfish area closed since a 2003 oil spill in Buzzards Bay is set to reopen next week..

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Police in Lawrence arrest an unlicensed dentist who was treating as many as 30 patients a day, the Eagle-Tribune reports. Ouch!

MEDIA

Rick Daniels, president of GateHouse Media New England division and publisher of the Patriot Ledger and Enterprise, will step down at the end of the year to pursue other investment and media advisory opportunities. Dan Kennedy wonders if it’s a voluntary move or a cost-cutting decision as the company’s financial struggles continue.

PASSINGS

Ravi Shankar, the celebrated Indian musician who teamed up with the Beatles and other western artists, is dead at 92.