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Heather Brooke Comes Out Batting For Paid Times

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What will the free-web pundits and anti-paywall brigadiers do when one of their own online poster girls comes out in favour of paid content?

Not too much yet. Heather Brooke, the investigative journalist who made her name in the UK by seeking access to House Of Commons expense filings, has this to say on her blog to critics who think writing for the paid-for Times somehow betrays her affection for openness…

“Newspapers are not free and they never have been. They can appear to be so but someone, somewhere is covering the costs whether that is through advertising, a patron

4 Responses to “Heather Brooke Comes Out Batting For Paid Times”

  1. Richard Tobin

    When the motor car was invented we called it a horseless carriage and thought of it in much the same way. Most of the earliest cars were no more than horse-drawn carriages with the new engineering brutally inserted. We today still drive and admire the coachwork of our cars (itself an abbreviation of carriage).

    The computer came with historic baggage too. They were little more than a 1900’s typewriter keyboard, a 1950’s TV, a 1960’s cassette tape-player and a mysterious 1970’s box of tricks. Many early adopters used them for no more than letter writing or keeping a ledger.

    Yet if we are sufficiently inspired from the outset to really comprehend the potential, whilst cutting loose of such baggage, we can find better ways of employing new technology. This is not how we like to work; we just can hardly help ourselves but take the old and try and build up the new in a familiar, albeit evolutionary, way instead.

    Aircraft are still in concept much like birds but we failed to succeed in controlled flight until Sir George Cayley worked-out wings had to be more curved on the top to force lower air-pressure to occur above the wing and so create a lifting effect. Henry Ford’s production and marketing philosophy was likewise fresh and revolutionary too.

    This is what is essential to get digital content paid for – a model unique to the means of delivery that takes the specific inherent characteristics and uses them honestly to key advantage.

  2. I’m the guy who prompted her blog post about this. I misread a line at the bottom of her blog post, which said ‘This is a longer version of an article in The Times’; I thought it said that The Times article was longer. That’s why I argued that if she was making a fuller case *behind* the paywall, there was an irony to it.

    Since her ‘fuller case’ was publicly viewable, I got it wrong, sorry!

    In fact, I’m all in favour of paywalls. The problem is, it’s like a peep show; the curtain drops when your time’s up. When you buy a newspaper you still have a physical item, to refer to, to re-read, to archive, to wrap fish in, to stick in your attic. And critically, for friends to see, or in coffee shops. Paywalls cannot be shared, not practically.

    How about a combined subscription? Very few people buy more than one paper, so if a modest subscription covered ALL papers (or at least, all the broadsheets), they could apportion the money between them according to how many readers they got. The Times online is £2 a week; I’d probably pay, say, £3 or £4 a week for accessing ALL UK newspapers. The internet would make it very easy to track what I viewed and share the money out.

    But then again, the whole of the BBC – and all UK TV online – is less than £3 a week in TV licence terms. The irony here is that I don’t have a TV, so I don’t even have to pay that!

  3. Huh – neat analogy Richard, but isn’t it a bit more like having that ideal kitchen, then choosing whether to bulk-buy at Asda (say…) once a month, OR taking the time each week to stroll around the street markets, bouttique food halls, delicatessans, etc? The current reality is that the latter outlets are giving away all of their produce, while the superstore chargfes for everythijg, even their tiny little tasting samples…

    I totally support paid-for content. I think the issue we all need to resolve – or watch the markets resolve for us – is to categorise this content into stratas of value, relevance, timeliness, etc. “news” no longer has an intrinsic value. A physical format does, as Richard reminds us. Feature articles do, product reviews don’t. And so on…

    At we’re noticing that there is a sharp rise in enquiries for “real” journalistic writing skills training, which I think reflects the market’s acknowledgement that the first step is to consistently produce content – of any type – that is high quality, readable, and engaging. If it’s “exclusive”, then even better…

  4. Richard Tobin

    The reason I subscribe to a (hard-copy) newspaper, the Telegraph every day, is because I find it far better for reading full articles, it is more flexible to use (in bed, on the loo, in a café, etc) and the annual cost is a no-brainer deal. That does not mean I am, in my head, paying for content; that I can get on-line for free. I am ‘paying’ for the physical item; the albeit low-tec device.

    I do not read from the ‘main-stream’ news on the web or in print because they are free of inaccurate rumour or propaganda – far from it. I read the main-stream media precisely because it is chock full brimming to bursting point with punch-pulled reporting, lies and propaganda. Then at least I know what it is we are expected to be thinking!

    I hope Heather Brooke is right and the Times start to publish more meaningful investigative reporting. But why would they start now? If they were free to or desired to they could have done so and pushed the Telegraph off of the No1 print sales podium years ago.

    The strength of seeking news from the web is ability to trawl a very wide net to gain a broad understanding with clarity. It requires the desire and ability to ask questions and seek answers. The last thing I am going to do is pay for all my news to come from one establishment mouth-piece via the web. That would be like having a great kitchen with access to any ingredient from all around the world and then always eating M&S oven ready dinners.