The paywall has arrived

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By Graduate Consultant Stuart Roberts

The Mercury has taken a brave step forward as the first Tasmanian Newspaper to enforce an online paywall subscription.

This is no unwarranted cash grab, this is inevitable action taken by a publication looking to sustainably produce high quality, well researched content into the future.

The days of free, high quality content have been long destined to end, with the cost of proper research, writing and fact checking far outweighing average online advertising revenue.

The Mercury’s decision to join major News Corp publications The Australian, Herald Sun, The Courier-Mail, The Daily Telegraph, and The Advertiser in erecting paywalls for premium content has been on the table for some time.

Although predictable, the announcement seemed to come as quite a shock to the broader Tasmanian public.

As The Mercury has discovered over the past few weeks, declaring your customers will be expected to pay for something they are used to receiving for free is not an easy exercise, particularly on social media.

In announcing their challenging new chapter, The Mercury expressed their loyalty to their Tasmanian readership, devoting pages to their passionate news team and the past achievements of the paper.

Unfortunately, the discussion of the paper’s long and lustrous history in Tasmania did little to justify the paywall introduction to many of The Mercury’s followers on social media.

With comments such as; ‘I will find the news elsewhere. It’s not hard’ and ‘You can jam that. You’re not the LA Times or New York Post’ the value of financially sustaining an important source of local news was clearly lost on many.

Although positive comments were not entirely missing, the immediate backlash tells us there needs to be more communication around the necessity to pay for journalism in Tasmania.

In a recent editorial, Mercury Deputy Editor Phil Young described the ‘anger, disbelieve and derision’ expressed by a portion of the paper’s online following.

While discussing the difficulties the paper faced in combatting online criticism, Mr Young described a key message that has somehow been missing in the ongoing paywall debate.

“We need a strong media to ensure politicians, councils, courts and other people in power are accountable.” Mr Young said.

It’s all well and good to get your news of the latest Donald Trump gaff from free online news publications, however, when it comes to important local issues, we will always rely on our local journalists to investigate and inform the community.

The service Tasmanian journalists and news publications provide to the community cannot be denied.

It is vital we recognise the changing nature of media, and support an environment where strong, informative, researched and fact checked news can continue to be produced.

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