Online news: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette shows how to make paywalls just plain tacky

PaywallSo, here it is, Saturday morning, and I’m scanning the headlines through Google Reader while downing my second cup of java. There’s lots of news in which to be interested, of course. Most of it I can just click on and, voila, there it is. Now and again I’ll bump into a paywall. That’s okay (or maybe it isn’t?).  The publishers need to make a buck somehow, right?

But what about this?

Washington Can’t Be Fixed
from Arkansas Online stories by Richard L. Hasen in Slate

I’m game. Let’s see how Mr. Hasen makes the case. Oh, but what’s this? It’s an article preview! Even better, “This is a great article available only to our subscribers.

Oh, a paywall. Bummer. Next.

Hold on. Didn’t I just read that the article was by Richard L. Hasen in Slate? I did. I did, indeed.

I’m sure I could just go to Slate and search for it, but doing that for headlines is an iffy proposition at best. Changing the headline is all too often the only bit of editing an outlet does now. It’s hard to find a needle in a haystack when “Sharp Pointy Object Lurks in Hay.” Google to the rescue.

Wouldn’t you know it? It’s a Slate article entitled, “Why Washington Can’t Be Fixed.” Even better, the full text is available, and it’s right from the horse’s mouth.

As for you, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, I don’t know if you’re alone in this new strategy or not, but thus far, yours is the only online news source I’ve seen use this particularly ugly gimmick. Paywalls may or may not be the way to go. Using them to grant access to AP articles available from countless other sources may or may not make sense. But to lie to your readers with the statement that the article (published by another branded news outlet) is available only to your subscribers?

Forget tacky. It’s false advertising.


Image credit: Adapted from image of brick wall by, licensed under Creative Commons and image of vending machine by Phil Kalina, licensed under Creative Commons.

5 replies »

  1. Forget false advertising (to say nothing of how inept the paywall is). That’s keeping an important story away from a part of the country that most needs to read it.

  2. Lately newspapers without a paywall such as the New York Daily News require you to answer a marketing polling question before proceeding to article. I’m sure I’m not the only one who clicks any answer without reading it just to get to article. I suppose they allow for that in tabulating the results

  3. Um…criticize all you want, but then take a look at the Democrat’s circulation numbers in the last ten years- growth, unlike every other paper in the nation.

  4. simply put, why would anyone spend millions on a news room staff and give away the content for free? this little state wide daily publication is not only surviving,but striving.Walter Hussman is the only publisher to beat Gannet in a newspaper war.

  5. Stephen and John, thanks for the responses. You do make good points. It’s hard to argue with success and a generally have no beef with paywalls. They’ve got to pay the bills somehow.

    However, you may have missed this line toward the end, “But to lie to your readers with the statement that the article (published by another branded news outlet) is available only to your subscribers?”

    “Lie” might be a strong word. It could be an innocent bit of marketing naivete and enthusiasm. Nevertheless, is there a reasonable answer to the question, “where might I read this article other than the Democrat-Gazette?” If so, then they are hardly the only source of the article. Nit-picker that I am, I also couldn’t help but notice that Slate didn’t require me to subscribe to the Democrat-Gazette in order to view the article, so even more specifically, “available only to their subscribers” is untrue.

    What if XYZBev claimed their brand of orange juice was the only source of vitamin C (available only to our drinkers)? Sure, there could be a product right next to it that says, “ABCDrink is higher in vitamin C than XYZBev,” Doesn’t matter. XYZBev’s claim basically says, “look no further, ignore the competition, we’re the only source for the fulfillment of your need.”

    Innocently or not, the claim to be “the only source” is deceptive. It’s the deception with which I have the problem.