Newsday Columnist Quits Over Paywall, Wants To Be Read

from the as-he-should dept

One of the reasons why the NY Times eventually did away with its old “paywall” was that its big name columnists started complaining that fewer and fewer people were reading them. We’ve suggested in the past that newspapers who decide to put up a paywall may find that their best reporters decide to go elsewhere, knowing that locking up their own content isn’t a good thing in terms of career advancement. So, with Cablevision deciding to put Newday behind a paywall, it didn’t take long for some of its columnists to start to bailing. The NY Times is reporting that Newsday columnist Saul Friedman quit and did so while publishing an open letter on why paywalls are a bad idea, while also telling the NY Times that he knew his column was popular with people outside of Newsday’s footprint, and he was upset that those people would not be able to read his column and that he wouldn’t be able to send out links to his columns.

Oh, one other thing? Mr. Friedman is 80 years old and worked for newspapers for over 50 years. In other words, he’s not just some “young kid who thinks everything online should be free” as we’re so often told is the real problem. News organizations that lock up their content are increasingly going to discover that it’s more and more difficult to attract top talent when compared to publications that actually help raise the journalists’ profiles.

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Companies: cablevision, newsday

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Comments on “Newsday Columnist Quits Over Paywall, Wants To Be Read”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Listen to your elders, kids.

Mr. Friedman’s blog will now be on my regular blog watch list. The fact that he even has a blog is amazing. I had problems showing my dad how to play a DVD on a Windows Machine, and here is Mr. Friedman setup with a blog and even his own domain name. Amazing!

As my Grandfather used to say: “Don’t think you’re too special. We all put our pants on the same way.”

Tip o’ the hat to you Mr. Friedman. Tip o’ the hat, my friend.

Here’s his blog:

Oh Lord, I just saw that there’s a “Geezer Flicks” link on the blog.

Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

Control may be power, but it doesn't build an audience

Copyright was always about control of the press, and preventing competition in the sale of copies. It was never necessary to enable artists to be paid by their audience.

With copyright ineffective, and a free and dwindling market in copies that people can now make themselves for nothing, the market that’s left is for journalists, their views and news, and the money of those in their audience who would incentivise them to continue producing it.

But, the elephant in the room that proponents of paywalls ignore is “Why does a journalist want to keep their audience small, simply so their publisher can charge admission to those tiny few that will jump through hoops to read them?”

Even in 1701 Defoe was happy to embrace pirates selling copies of his work – if they would at least ensure those copies were accurate:

Had I wrote it for the Gain of the Press, I should have been concern’d at its being Printed again and again, by Pyrates, as they call them, and Paragraph-Men: But would they but do it Justice, and print it True, according to the Copy, they are welcome to sell it for a Penny, if they please.

If he was in the business of selling copies (or charging for access via a paywall) he would be concerned at the competition, but he’s not, he’s writing to be read, by those who would read him.

Writers are not in the business of selling copies, they’re in the business of selling their words and ideas. Copyright was created for the press, not authors (despite the press pretending otherwise).

Given a choice between a sheltered life as a circus freak, and straddling the world’s stage as a literary colossus, one shouldn’t be surprised if such captive authors as Saul Friedman seek to escape the circus to the freedom of the world’s free press aka the world wide web.

You never know, they might even have a thousand true fans waiting for them that throw them a few pennies to persuade them to keep up their good work.

From the prohibition of copying parochial newspapers, to the liberty of the world’s free press. And there’s no law preventing journalists being paid by those who would pay them to write – yet.

Anonymous Coward says:

All that has happened is that the columnist has decided that his “work” is so significant, so important, that it can be limited to only readers of the Newsday.

In that regard, he is doing the right thing. Perhaps he should just open a blog and see what life is like in the real world, where a paycheck doesn’t show up every week just for being there.

Richard (profile) says:

Creator's priorities vs middleman priorities

It is clear that once again we are seeing the difference between the priorities of actual artists, authors, musicians, journalists etc and those of middlemen.

Creator’s Priorities

1. Usage.

My work should be out there being seen/heard/read.

2. Attribution

My name should be on it.

3. Money.

Middlemen’s prioirties are the exact reverse of these.

Anonymous Coward says:

At 80 years old Mr.Friedman is well past the point of needing to work for a living. He writes for different reasons. And so he can hardly be called “typical” – saying that this one event confirms a personal paywall theory about journalists not wanting to be behind a paywall is a bit much.
If a bunch of married 40 year old journalists, with 2.2 kids each, start quiting then it would perhaps confirm the theory. People need to earn their crust first – then they get to think about things such as readership.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think he simply meant that at 80 years, he’s way past the point where a person would have usually had to work i.e. he would have been able to live off of his retirement savings. Even if this is not so in the particular case, the perception is there so it would be a more compelling argument is younger authors would make this same decision.

Jason says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I think I simply meant that more than half of US workers over 55 have not saved more than 50,000 for retirement, that roughly half of all workers expect to rely on 70% of their pre-retirement income, and roughly 2/3 of those already retired say that same 70% is not enough to get by on.

Which means that just because you guys have (or blindly expect to have) it lucky, not everybody does – most don’t and that your more than perfectly well understood, though painfully dated assumption is, simply, for shit.

Jason says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

OH, and I think Masnick’s point wasn’t that his being 80 validates Mike’s point about writers generally wanting more readership, but rather that it flies in the face of the stereotype that only 14 yr old kids think content should be free.

Here we see the extremely rare case where an opinionated old guy would like things to be free also. But I agree, can’t expect to find many of those.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Enter the first of the: “…this only applies to…” arguments.

Hate to fly in the face of such a brilliant argument, but sign me up as a ‘sometimes writer’ who doesn’t want to be behind a paywall. I write the occasional post for Techdirt for just that reason. I’m too obscure a writer already, I need to get my words and ideas out there, linkable, sharable, tweetable, diggable, etceterable.

And now, you say:
“OK, so that only applies to consultants who write in their spare time, and octogenarian columnists for major papers. Not anybody else.”

Hulser (profile) says:

"Career advancement" vs. ego

We’ve suggested in the past that newspapers who decide to put up a paywall may find that their best reporters decide to go elsewhere, knowing that locking up their own content isn’t a good thing in terms of career advancement.

I agree with the prediction that more authors will resist paywalls, but I’m not so sure that the primary concern is “career advancement”. The example is an author who quit the New York Times, one of the most well-known and respected publishers on the planet, in order to write for his own blog. Not exactly the traditional model for career advancement. While you can make an argument that your personal reputation is more important than the reputation of your current employer, I think this has more to do with ego than any concerns for career advancement. Not egotism, just the general idea that authors place a very high value on the size of their audience, in many cases even when it overrides income or overall career concerns.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: "Career advancement" vs. ego

I think you are missing the point. The “traditional model of career advancement” isn’t going to be worth much if these publications start putting up paywalls and losing readers left and right. What this story shows is that more and more journalists are recognizing that the traditional route isn’t as effective, and that self-promotion is the new model of career advancement.

But remember, this is a lesson to the publications too. Respected and recognized columnists are a BIG part of developing a dedicated core readership, and they are also integral to making the readership grow through word-of-mouth. These are the pundits that have die-hard fans who never miss a column, and who then talk about them at the water cooler and the dinner table, who Twitter them onwards and post them on Digg and generally evangelize them to their friends and family. It’s utterly insane to want to lock that content up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "Career advancement" vs. ego

You are making two assumptions that are wrong:

1) That the subscription only places will lose so many of their target readers as to be a failure, and

2) that there is such a huge market for opinionated columnists that they can take their act anywhere and be famous.

the WSJ has shown that it’s subscriber base overall (online and print) has gone up dramatically since it put in online subscription based access. That is the sort of readership that wants and is willing to pay for their content, which makes them an even more valuable demographic than random websurfers.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "Career advancement" vs. ego

The WSJ is a bit of a different animal because the information it contains has a direct impact on making money. This makes it unique in two ways: a) readers treat it more like an investment, where their subscription costs are returned in the form of increased financial success, and b) as completely opposed to other news and editorial, readers do not want to share it, because part of the value is in having an advantage that others don’t. At the WSJ, a paywall adds value (because readers want exclusivity), while at most publications it takes value away (because readers want to share and discuss freely).

The columnists at the WSJ can be considered more akin to financial advisors. People will pay for access to their material in the same way they will pay for professional portfolio advice.

batch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "Career advancement" vs. ego

You’ve got a good point. If I wanted specific information, such as financial insight, the WSJ very well could earn my dollars, as I understand that what they offer is a more limited commodity, and I assume, the people writing it are highly skilled and knowledgeable in regards to what they are creating. On the other hand, something such as national news, for example, I wouldn’t buy a subscription to because it is infinitely available. I could ask anyone whats going on, after all, it would be easy to locate a source. An ad supported version of national news makes much more sense, in this case. It makes even more sense when there are people who simply don’t read the news on a regular basis. Some revenue from those people is better than no revenue.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re: "Career advancement" vs. ego

What this story shows is that more and more journalists are recognizing that the traditional route isn’t as effective, and that self-promotion is the new model of career advancement.

Well, I did acknowledge that personal reputation could be considered more important these days than just the reputation of your employer. However, I still stand by my opinion that ego was a big part of this guy’s decision, rather than just career advancement. As another poster pointed out, the guy is 80. He’s probably not going to advance his career too much more than he already has.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "Career advancement" vs. ego

There’s ego, which probably plays a role, but there’s also impact.

As a writer, you just enjoy the fact that your words are beign read. There is a satisfying feeling to knowing that your ideas have legs, and are spreading and growing. More people reading your work increases that satisfaction. It’s more than ego.

Consider these two vaguely similar acts:
– a big snowfall hits on Friday night. You spend Saturday morning shoveling for an hour. I’ll bet you stop when you’re done and take a good, long look at that clean driveway, at the neat piles of snow on the banks, and feel…well, good. Snow shoveling was always one of my favorite jobs, since the results were so immediate, so visual, and so satisfying.

– your lawn has two weeks of growth on it, and you set about mowing it for an hour. Who doesn’t stop to look at the shorn heath, the neat rows of tire tracks, and feel a sense of accomplishment. Sure, it’ll grow back, but you did real, visible work. Many of us professionals lack that kind of visual affirmation of our work, so the lawn helps a bit.

Well, that show-shoveled or cut lawn feeling is like what writers feel when somebody reads their work. If an order of magnitude fewer readers read it, it feels less satisfying…like you cleared two tire tracks down the driveway so you could get out, but that’s it.

This guy’s 80. I hope he’s not shoveling much snow. But he can feel productive as long as he’s writing, and someone’s reading.

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