“Our massive mistake when the Internet started with journalism—why it was given away for free,” says Frey. “It’s not a public resource. It costs a lot of money to do good journalism.”
—Hillary Frey speaking this week at the Columbia School of Journalism
In 1995, big newspapers decided they should make digital readers pay for a newspaper’s news. James O’Shea, former editor of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, described what then happened in his book, The Deal From Hell.
When the Internet was just heating up, a number of newspaper executives realized the possible threat to revenues. This was the era of “Information wants to be free!” So the biggest metropolitan newspapers, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Knight-Ridder, the Tribune Company, Times Mirror, Advance Publications, Cox Enterprises, Gannett, and Hearst, got clearance from their antitrust lawyers to meet and they hammered out a plan to form an organization, the New Century Network, that would pool content and place it behind a paywall.
Imagine: Starting almost at the birth of the Internet, you would have had to pay to read stories from the best newspapers.
But the members of the organization couldn’t get along. The egos were too big. They couldn’t decide who would make decisions. New Century Network broke up and newspapers started giving away their content free.