Local news worth paying for, says Conestoga journalism program co-ordinator

Starting Wednesday, readers will get just seven free online stories from the Waterloo Region Record as the newspaper launches an improved paywall. Larry Cornies, co-ordinator of the journalism program at Conestoga College, says he's 'cheering them on' and hopes people will pay for local news.

'I’m actually cheering them on. I’m hoping this will succeed for them'

The Record launched a paywall on its website Wednesday which will require readers to pay for access after they've read seven stories in a month. (Kate Bueckert/CBC News)

Regular online readers of the Waterloo Region Record will notice the newspaper has relaunched a paywall on its website.

It means non-subscribers will only have access to a limited number of stories each month before they're asked to pay for a subscription or wait until the next month when the number is reset.

It's a move Larry Cornies is happy to see.

"I'm actually cheering them on. I'm hoping this will succeed for them," Cornies, the co-ordinator of the journalism program at Conestoga College and a former editor of the London Free Press and Globe and Mail, told CBC K-W's The Morning Edition Wednesday.

About 20 years ago, newspapers made the "original sin" of putting content online for free, said Cornies. Since then, they've moved at a "glacial pace" to adapt to the internet.

"We've become used to it," Cornies said of getting news — particularly local news — for free.

"It's a tough one to convince people that that's what needs to be done."

Listen to the whole interview with Larry Cornies:

Works for some but not all

Subscribers of The Record, which has existed in the community under a few different names since 1878, won't notice much change and will still be able to get online access.

Non-subscribers will be locked out of the site after reading seven locked articles each month. You will still be able to read headlines, but not the stories.

Other newspapers have had success with the paywall system, but Cornies noted it hasn't worked for every newspaper.

The New York Times, he noted, has reached a million online subscribers.

But the New York Times is also a newspaper that has international cache.

"They do have an easier time attracting digital subscribers because you're not up to date, you're really fully informed unless you're reading those new sources," he said.

The political climate in the United States also helps.

"I think the rise of alternative facts and fake news has forced people over the past couple of years now to really think hard about the sources of information they use, what it costs to get reliable, fast and accurate information and how they can best support that," he said.

As fewer people pick up paper copies of newspapers, the industry has tried to get people to pay for the content online. But it's not easy, Cornies says, because for two decades, newspapers have put much of their content online for free. Now, people expect it. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

People know they should 'ante up'

Social media has also played a role in local readers not necessarily wanting to pay for news they feel they can get in their Twitter and Facebook feeds.

Cornies agreed it's a bit like putting toothpaste back into the tube.

"Try to push back on that — try to reverse time — and it's awfully, awfully difficult," he said.

Still, he pays for subscriptions and knows others who have done the same in recent years.

"Once you've done it, you feel better about it," he said.

"People, in their heart of hearts, know that collecting information, being at city hall meetings or education board meetings or courts costs time and money and if they want that information, they really should ante up."


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