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Editor’s blog: Making digital pay remains the Holy Grail

HTFP blogger Steve Dyson has written another of his pieces for media management mag In Publishing this week, asking a selection of local and regional editors five questions about their papers’ digital priorities.

The answers make interesting reading, but perhaps the most interesting are the ones that came in response to the last question, dealing with the vexed issue of how journalism can be paid for in a largely digital world.

Steve asked:  If digital access remains largely free, how can newspaper brands continue to resource high-quality journalism?

The replies reveal there is no single clear view in the industry about how to make online pay.

For instance Richard Butt Editor, Isle of Man Examiner, Manx Independent and Isle of Man Courier, put his faith in a system of free registration for newspaper websites, allowing for more data capture that can be sold on to advertisers.

Richard also advocates higher cover prices to compensate for the loss of casual readers, as does Rotherham Advertiser editor Andrew Mosley.

Belfast Telegraph editor Mike Gilson, by contrast, suggests that online paywalls will have to come sooner or later, a view shared by Essex Enquirer boss Neil Speight.

Said Mike:  “I don’t think it can remain free. We have to find what’s unique, make sure it’s compelling and then charge for it.”

Geoff Martin, editor of the Ham and High, perhaps summed up the dilemma facing the industry best of all.

“If people would pay to read newspapers online all the industry’s troubles would be over, but smarter people than me are struggling to make that work. It’s still the Holy Grail,” he said.

I was recently asked for my own view on the question by a fairly senior executive in a leading regional newspaper group.

My response was to tell him that if I knew the answer to that one, I’d be sitting where he is now.