Although the news is mildly old now, Gannett Company announced that all of their websites would shift to a delayed paywall for all of it’s websites by the end of the year, similar to the one adopted by the New York Times a few years ago. Although USA Today will be exempt from the change, the paywall will affect all 80 plus community newspaper owned by the company, including the Detroit Free Press, The Indianapolis Star and the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Putting aside the business side, this is huge news for media consumers in Washoe County, because the RGJ is really the only publication doing real investigative and quality news journalism in the area. The Daily Sparks Tribune has a minuscule online presence and little original content, Reno News and Review is focused more on entertainment and other ‘light’ news, and the Nevada Appeal already has a paywall in place.
So in a way, the RGJ has a kind of monopoly on local news in Reno, which means theoretically that the paywall should work out for both the paper and Gannett, which expects an estimated $100 million in new revenue from the system. Gannett is also allowing changes to be made on a local level. But when I emailed journalism professor David Ryfe about the upcoming paywall, he expressed some doubts about how the system would work.
… I don’t know if it will work. But I’m deeply skeptical that it will, mainly because I don’t think it will generate enough revenue to offset the declines in advertising that will accompany the paywall.
So the real question here for the RGJ is whether the organization can convince it’s readers, who are mainly older professionals, that paying for their news is worth it. Experiments in other Gannett-owned newspapers have worked relatively well, as a casually optimistic post from the Neiman Journalism Lab points out. When I spoke to members of the RGJ staff last week during a summer internship interview, they seemed positive that their online presence could turn a paywall into a profitable endeavor.
While it’s extremely difficult to make a prediction, I think the RGJ will work it out in the end if only because they are the main source for news in Northern Nevada, and without quality free alternatives, they should succeed.