Former WSJ.com Editor: What Papers Can–And Can't–Charge For

First, free was all the rage among newspapers; now, the pendulum has swung back, and at least some newspaper companies are convinced that their future lies in charging for their content. What does someone who has relied on the pay model from day one think about that? It won’t work, at least not the way that many papers are now talking about it.

In a two-part series on the Reflections of a Newsosaur blog, former WSJ.com managing editor Bill Grueskin argues that once newspapers decided to put their news online there was no going back because, in his opinion, readers won’t pay for news that was once free. This is why, he said, the WSJ.com was so stubborn about not making its content free even when pundits and analysts were questioning the pay model.

(Since Grueskin’s departure, under Rupert Murdoch, Dow Jones (NYSE: NWS) has made more of WSJ.com free, while keeping much of its core economics and business coverage behind the pay wall.) Where papers do have the option to charge, Grueskin says, is for non-news content, including the following:

— Daily emails with actionable information, like the best-and-worst traffic routes during rush hour.

— Sites that offer real-time intelligence about the real-estate market.

— Survey sites that accept user submissions about the best-and-worst teachers in local markets.

— In-depth coverage of local government, including publishing bills and video.

Comments have been disabled for this post