September 25, 2011

Baltimore Sun to start charging for online content

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The Baltimore Sun is putting up a paywall for its online content in two weeks, charging even print subscribers for stories and other features everyone has been getting for free for years.

As the Sun publisher writes to readers and an article in the business section notes, this move to charging people for content is not completely novel, as newspapers contemplate how to continue to stay afloat. UPDATE: Unlike it does for most articles, the Sun is not posting reader comments on these two pieces.

The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg have long charged for most content, and the New York Times and Boston Globe have begun doing so.

The Sun will be following the model of the Times and the Globe, requiring a subscription if you want to read more than a specific number of online stories per month. In the Sun’s case, the threshold is 15.

Within the past year, the Daily Record in Baltimore began putting its “exclusive” stories behind a wall available only to subscribers. Two other Maryland papers —  the Cecil Whig and the Easton Star-Democrat — dropped their strict paywall for all content this summer, only to restore it in recent weeks. The Cumberland Times-News tried it for a while, but dropped it.

What’s an aggregator to do?

The new Sun paywall presents an interesting dilemma for MarylandReporter.com. Since we started this site almost two years ago, we’ve been doing the daily State Roundup from more than 50 websites including the Sun and the other papers we’ve mentioned, along with blogs, online news and other sources.

Unlike these for-profit companies, MarylandReporter.com was established as a nonprofit venture with money from foundations concerned about the loss of state government coverage. The roundup was designed to give people as much coverage of state government and politics as possible, combined with our own original reporting, which is free for anyone to pick up. The Daily Record, CityBizList, Salisbury News, Southern Maryland Online and the Cumberland Times-News are among those publications that use our articles, and there are likely others that we don’t even know about.

Our daily State Roundup shows that there is still a sizable amount of coverage of Maryland government. A lot of that is still done by the Sun. Despite the drastic cutback in staff and the complaints of former readers and current subscribers about thin coverage, Sun reporters still cover more about government than any other news organization in Maryland: Annie Linskey at the State House; Michael Dresser on transportation, Tim Wheeler on environment, Liz Bowie on education, Childs Walker on higher education, Jay Hancock and others in business, as well as reporters in all the Baltimore suburban counties, the city and Washington, D.C. The list is long, though not as long as it used to be.

So my first reaction is that MarylandReporter.com’s State Roundup can’t very well stop linking to the comprehensive coverage in the Sun, even if it causes readers to drive into the paywall.  Maybe we should also subscribe to the other publications as well, and at least let readers know about coverage elsewhere, even if it is behind a wall.

That’s my preliminary thought about the Sun’s new subscription charge. I’d be interested to hear what our readers think about this development, and what we should do about it in the roundup.

You can just add a comment below, or send me an e-mail or comment on our Facebook site.

–Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com
Editor and Publisher

  • LM

    Len,

    If we are to avoid the whole sale copying 100% of the Baltimore Sun’s material on intellectual property grounds, you should be safe liberally paraphrasing (hyuk!) their content due to fair use rules that pertain to news.  Online news is definitely the future.  However, if you were to copy their content en toto, I am not going to shed many tears for a failing paper that acts as a mouthpiece for the political establishment in this state and maintains itself on taxpayer subsidies.

  • AB

    The Sun has cut its reporting a lot in the last decade or two.    Folks like you and others have picked up the slack very well.    Keep linking to stories whether behind a pay wall or not.    But, you can also use fair use summaries, with proper credit, so your readers can determine whether it is worthwhile to pay for the article in the Sun (or others).     There are lots of other sources that don’t have a pay wall, and are more on top of things than the Sun at this point.    Keep doing what you are doing.    We’ll be depending on you more.

  • Free is not a viable economic model for any business (profit or non-profit) in the long run.  Someone has to pay for the reporters and journalists to do the investigations that get to the real story.  If no one is around to produce the story, then all that will be left for the MarylandReport.com to report will be the press releases that the government provides and that would be a sad day for this state and our country. 

  • The problem is that I’m not sure how one can link to the Sun without subscribing to the online service. According to Poynter, social media & website links will count against the 15 free view limit. 

  • Angie B

    In my opinion, you should definitely continue to include the Sun material & other firewall-protected material for 2 reasons. First, 15 articles per month is about one every other day, and I doubt I follow up more than that in a month; I think I and most other readers would incur no cost. Second, your summaries are often all I really want to know about a subject, so I have no need to follow up.

  • Bhoffman

    I personally think it is counter productive for the Sun to charge for its online content. I can hear the same stories on the radio in the morning and I’m inclined to give up the print subscription also. You should keep linking and we can decide whether or not we want to “pay to read”.

  • Laurad66

    Laura D.

    Well, Len, maybe now you and your pals will have to actually produce ORIGINAL CONTENT, instead of cribbing Baltimore Sun and other legitimate news organizations’ content, generated by experienced, professional reporters. You are primarily an ‘aggregator’ or ‘content farm’ operation, with a very few original content dollops, superimposed on a roundup of the blood, sweat and tears real reporting of legitimate news organizations like the Sun, the Salisbury paper, and the Frederick and Hagerstown newspapers. So please spare us your crocodile tears; your GOP foundation backers have lots of money, so just aske them to give you more money to hire reporters who will slant the news your way.

    • RG

      Maryland Reporter has always been objective.  They actually cover quite a bit of legislative action that nobody else covers.  This partisan nonsense is unnecessary.

  • PARTY

    THE SUN DOESNT COVER THE STATE GOVERNMENT THE STATE GOVERNMENT COVERS THE SUN PAPER.   I HAVE COME TO APPRECIATE THE MD REPORTER……..USUALLY WHEN I DONT…….IT IS A SUN PAPER ARTICLE IN THE MIX.

    HOPE THE MD REPORTER CAN FIGURE IT OUT……..

    WE NEED A NEWS REPORTING MIDDLE EAST SPRING  HERE IN MARYLAND AND SOME BACKBONE TO STAND UP TO THE POLITICAL STATUS QUO…
    MAKE.THE  LITTLE MAN PROUD THAT USED TO STAND IN FRONT OF THE SUN PAPERS BIULDING WITH HIS SIGN …..THE SUN LIES .
    ITS ALWAYS ABOUT THE NEXT ELECTION, NOT ABOUT GOOD ,HONEST GOVERNMENT. THE SUN PAPERS IS DYING FOR A REASON. LET IT.
     
     I HOPE MD REPORTER CAN GROW WITHOUT BEING SWALLOWED BY THE POISON.  OR IS THE PLAN FOR THE SUN PAPER TO TAKE YOU OVER TOO AND BECOME A NON PROFIT.

    THAT WOULD WORK  FOR THE POWER QUO NOT FOR THE REST OF US. 

    I WOULD PAY A FEE FOR THE MD REPORTER ,NEVER FOR THE SUN OR ITS SMALL LEGION .
     
    SOCIAL MEDIA MIGHT  NOT BE THE ANSWER, DUH. BUT MAYBE THE REAL JOB FOR THE MARYLAND REPORTER WOULD BE TO SEARCH OUT
     AND CULTIVATE INDEPENDENT WRITERS WHO TRY TO REMAIN PURE AS THE DRIVEN SNOW.

    AND THERE IS A SANTA CLAUSE. MOM. OR IS THAT MOMMY DEAREST.