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Caffeine or News?

February 17, 2010

An article written for the Opinion Writing Workshop by Ruth Eglash, Hani Hazaimeh, Juno Mcenroe and Abdul Rasheed Channa:

If you had to choose between your daily cup of coffee or reading a news story from a reputable newspaper on-line, could you forego that caffeine kick?

According to News Corp. Chief Rupert Murdoch, people reading news for free on the web has got to change. So, starting in 2011, readers to the New York Times on-line edition will be charged for the privilege of reading stories on a regular basis.

This development comes after several years of debates that have seen some newspaper reverse the on-line fees for reading their content, but in the struggling media industry it is thought to be the only way to combat continual revenue losses.

Of course, if the New York Times is successful in this experiment, then it could change the face of the entire on-line news industry with all other newspapers having no choice but to follow suit.

While this is good news for a profession known for its low salaries, this move is not only about choosing between your caffeine fix and news intake. It could also be detrimental to the flow of information reaching the developing world.

In countries such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, only 20 percent of the people have access to the Internet and roughly 70 percent are not literate. Their access to information is already limited but such a charge, for them, is not only about the cost of a cup of coffee but is equivalent to a Pakistani person’s monthly salary.

With no hardcore proof that charging for news on-line will increase media revenues and with the belief that the internet is there to educate people or provide them with access to information, how can these fees be justified?

Of course, for us in the profession, we have to acknowledge the benefits of charging for the stories that we write. It protects our jobs, prevents plagiarism and libels and strengthens the loyalty of readers and abuses of freedom of speech.

I want my job and I want to get paid for what I do.

But I still want as many people as possible to access my stories, to know what I am writing. Rich or poor, developing or underdeveloped, as a journalist our goal is to disseminate information as much as possible.

The move has been viewed as an attempt by media tycoons to pump up profits, control information and even is seen as a violation of the UN declaration of human rights.

There are always other options, including voluntary contributions that have worked for music groups and even in restaurants, where in some cases consumers end up offering more than the standard fee. Take Radiohead’s recent album made available online.

This debate, which is still not over yet, must include the option of waving charges in the developing world.

While my newspaper (and my own pocket) might benefit from Murdoch’s push, I would feel eternally guilty about depriving a child in a developing country of learning more about the civilized world.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 17, 2010 8:34 am

    well written piece….. great working with you guys

  2. February 17, 2010 7:17 pm

    Dear colleagues,
    You definitely present a strong point of view in this piece.
    With the proliferation of free on-line news sources, I’m skeptical about the idea of charging on-line access to news by the Murdoch’s news corps et al. I don’t see this working unless the alternative sources start charging as well. This should have been a well thought process way before introducing free on line news in the first place. I think that its almost too late now for newspapers to slap readers with such charges. Instead, the should look for other creative ways of raising revenues.

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