Newspapers Spend a Lot of Money to Report the News: Why Did They Decide to Give It Away Free on the Internet?

In 1995—the dawn of the digital age for journalism—some newspapers were thinking that they should make digital readers pay for a newspaper’s news. Here’s how one editor remembers it, much of it drawn from the book, The Deal from Hell, by James O’Shea, former editor of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times:

“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.

“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.”

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