Thought of the Day: Newspapers Websites

I’ve posted about newspapers before, the industry’s seemingly imminent collapse and lack of success online are interesting problems to me. As far as I’m concerned, newspapers (and “old media” in general) are still a relevant source of information and there’s really no reason they should be dying.

As Erica Glasier put it on her blog the other day:

They take raw information and give it the context that years of newsgathering provides, and the clout of accuracy commiserate with the individual media org’s brand.

The Problem

I am under the impression that newspaper website are struggling to make ends meat because online ad revenue is not making up for their losses in print distribution. On top of that in their attempt to keep up with the times by added commenting functionality to their sites, they’ve degraded the experience of their online presence. Much to nobody’s surprise news site comments are often filled with trolls, bigots, spam and other meaningless drivel.

My Thought

An extremely simple solution to address these two problems would be to charge a small monthly subscription fee for access to the commenting system. Somewhere around $3 – $5 per month.

Being required to go through an ecommerce transaction should be enough to deter outright, viagra-selling-spammers who depend on bots and cheap labour to blanket the internet with spam.

But also, in theory this small fee should  discourage trolls and other nuisance commenters who are likely to register an account on a whim, if registration is free and easy. These same types of people would be very unlikely to shell out a few bucks just to spew racial slurs. In the case that a fee isn’t enough to discourage unwanted commentors, having an account tied to a credit card makes it much more easy to ban an individual; it’s quite a lot more difficult to get a new credit card number, than it is to get a new email address and register another account. Site’s like Metafilter have been using this tactic for years.

Would anyone actually pay to comment?

I’m really not sure, but I think it’s worth a shot. It’s clear that blanket paywalls don’t really work – they sort of break the internet and nobody wants to pay just to read an article similar to another one posted elsewhere for free. Blocking comments on controversial topics works to a degree, but reasonable dialogues about controversial issues are often fascinating.

I believe that every newspaper has core audience who would pay a small fee to comment.