The state of Seattle journalism, as the Times puts up a paywall

Feb 24, 2013, 4:13 PM | Updated: Feb 25, 2013, 12:52 pm
The Seattle Times announced “digital subscriptions” are needed to support quality journ...
The Seattle Times announced "digital subscriptions" are needed to support quality journalism. In mid-March, the news organization will put up a paywall. Subscribers will continue to have unrestricted access online. Other users will have to pay. (Linda Thomas photo)
(Linda Thomas photo)

Most people don’t want to pay for news online. Many people don’t trust the media. And, by the way, everybody is a journalist.

Saying, “You get what you pay for,” The Seattle Times is challenging the first assumption, while a local news council is asking journalists to step up their games to win back public trust.

In a column in The Seattle Times Sunday, the news organization announced it will begin charging those who don’t subscribe to their newspaper but want to read their stories online.

“Of course, we realize that nobody likes having to pay for something they’ve been receiving for free,” writes David Boardman, executive editor for the Times. “But we believe that if you stop for just a moment to contemplate how important The Times is to the vitality and civility of the Puget Sound region, you might even feel good about your contribution to sustaining the content you value.”

Boardman referred to the paywall as “digital subscriptions.”

Those subscriptions to the will be available at no extra charge to existing and new print subscribers and will give users access to the newspaper’s smartphone and tablet apps.

Readers who don’t subscribe will still be able to access the online content on a limited basis, after a few stories you’ll have to pay.

How much? A Times spokeswoman later stated there will be an introductory offer of 99-cents per week for four weeks. The regular pricing will be $3.99 per week.

There are hundreds of reader reactions posted in the comments section of Boardman’s column.

“I’m starved for objective and untargeted news and I’m not sure where to go. I have had that feeling for a very long time. I’m certain that registering my name, address and credit card for a subscription is not going to help me in my quest,” writes one reader from Federal Way.

“You would have to pry money from my cold dead hands to pay for a Seattle Times subscription,” says another reader.

“Pay for this crap? Good luck.”

The Times is not alone with its skeptical news consumers.

The most recent Edelman Trust Barometer puts the media as a whole third from the bottom among institutions. That’s down there with banks and financial institutions.

“That’s consistent with Gallup, which found 60 percent of Americans have little or no trust in the media’s ability to report the news fully, accurately and fairly,” says John Hamer. “That’s disturbing.”

Hamer, who was a Seattle Times editorial writer many years ago, founded the Washington News Council in 1998.

“A lot of citizens in this region really care about high quality, accurate, ethical, thorough, professional journalism,” says Hamer. “I spent 30 plus years as a journalist and thought maybe the profession was getting a little off track.”

His media watchdog organization is the only one that still exists in the United States. Has it made a difference?

“Maybe a little,” he admits. “You pick your battle and try to move the needle a little bit.”

Hamer’s latest effort is called the Tao of Journalism. He’s encouraging student and professional journalists to abide by its simple concepts of Transparency, Accountability, and Openness.

He believes journalism has been damaged by the “pretense of objectivity.”

“So many journalists for so long have pretended that they have no views – the view from nowhere. ‘Oh no, no, no, no, no I don’t have any opinions on anything. I’m totally neutral. I can be totally objective,’ well baloney,” he says.

Journalists should still be even handed, but the line between news an opinion has blurred so much that he believes news people need to be more upfront about their opinions so the reader, viewer and listener can better judge the information they’re receiving.

On the issue of accountability, Hamer says it’s quite simple. Journalists need to admit when they’ve made factual errors and apologize for them.

“Show a little humility. The words humility and journalist seldom appear in the same sentence, let’s face it this is an ego centric profession,” Hamer says.

Openness involves giving other points of view opportunity to express their perspectives. It also includes engaging in open, public dialogue through comments. I’ve always been a supporter of your ability to comment anonymously on this blog, and I do consider your feedback.

Hamer believes these standards should apply to anyone – with or without a journalism degree – who presents news in any form.

“We’re all journalists now,” he says. “You can start your own website or blog. Facebook could be considered journalism when you’re posting stuff to your friends. People trust what they get from their friends maybe more than the traditional media sources.”

“That’s the big question,” he asks. “Who do you trust?”


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The state of Seattle journalism, as the Times puts up a paywall