Barber: Salt Lake Tribune’s Paywall Denies Low-Income Populations Access to News

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The year is 1993. Bill Clinton is president. Jurassic Park is in theaters, and Creep by Radiohead has just come out. The World Wide Web was invented in 1989four years ago and Google won’t exist until 1998, another three years to come. To access the internet you have to use a dial-up modem, and loading each web page takes several minutes.

This is the world into which the Salt Lake Tribune’s original website was born. In the last week of 1993, the Salt Lake Tribune joined the technological movement and created their own website. At that point, no one could have predicted what the Internet has evolved into today. We’re online from the moment we wake up until we go to bed. Smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, laptops and WiFi are easily accessible and affordable. We use the Internet for everything: research, gaming, streaming videos, social media and — of course — the news. 

The Internet has been a huge phenomenon — far larger than anyone could have dreamed. So, when the Tribune and many other newspapers began their online journeys, they never considered how the Internet could cost them. Because of the easily accessible and free nature of online content, more people are turning to the Internet instead of printed papers to get their daily fill of news events. According to Pew Research Center, “As of August 2017, two-thirds (67 percent) of Americans report that they get at least some of their news on social media.”

As of Thursday morning, The Salt Lake Tribune has introduced a paywall for their online content. Readers will be able to view ten free articles per month, but for full access, they must purchase a subscription for $7.99 a month.

It is understandable why introducing an online paywall was deemed a necessary move by The Tribune and many other online news sources, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. Providing news is extremely expensive: transportation for reporters, expensive equipment, printing, distribution and other associated costs build up. When newspapers are losing readers to the Internet, they are losing subscription fees and paper ad revenue — two crucial monetary factors which keep them running. 

The problem with introducing these paywalls is that they cut off news sources for underprivileged populations and people under the poverty line. To most of us, $7.99 doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but when you’re trying to decide between groceries for the next couple of days or a month-long subscription to The Salt Lake Tribune, the choice is pretty obvious.

Having access to the news is critical for the health of a democracy. Without the news, people wouldn’t know about important events, controversies, crimes or governmental affairs. Cutting off access for people who can’t afford to pay for it could be catastrophic.

It’s a tough situation. Without some way to make money, newspapers will die out. However, paywalls prevent a portion of the population from having fair access to important news and information. There’s no clear-cut solution, but denying news sources to low-income populations is not the answer.

Shaelyn is a fourth year at the University of Utah studying Political Science and Journalism in the hopes that someday she can be a travel writer. She is especially passionate about social justice, LGBTQ+ rights, women's rights, and mental health awareness. In her (very rare) free time she loves to hike, paint, and read.

11 COMMENTS

    • If news organizations did this, how many subscriptions will you be willing to pay for each month? Getting all your news from one or two sources, because you can’t afford more, puts the view of the world in a very small box. Those not bothered by this worry me. It’s like Donald Trump listening only to Fox News and then re-spewing their destructive, hateful rhetoric before checking the actual facts.

  1. People living in poverty have the exact same access to the news with an online paywall as they had before the internet (or before they personally owned a smart phone or computer) – they can go to the library, watch the news on TV, or listen to it on the radio.

    When newspapers were only available in print, they weren’t free – and people managed to get the news anyway. Those same methods exist today (as well as many free online news sources).

    Yes, paywalls suck (I probably won’t be subscribing) – but this is not a new problem and the solutions are not that extreme.

  2. “Cutting off access for people who can’t afford to pay for it could be catastrophic.”

    So should all housing be free? What about groceries, should those be free? How about tuition? I know I’d like those to be free. But that’s why I have a job.

    Just because you want something and can’t afford it doesn’t mean it should be free. If not enough people think $7.99 is worth it for news, then the paper will lose money and lower their prices.

    “paywalls prevent a portion of the population from having fair access to important news and information”. Do poor people have to pay more for news than middle class people? No. They pay the same. That’s fair. Why should they get preferential treatment?

    Since when is a private institution asking for money in exchange for goods and services “catastrophic”??

    • How many $7.99’s are you going to be willing to pay for each month? Do you believe the Tribune is going to give you every angle of the story? Will they be telling you everything that’s going on in the world, or just what they think is important? Small fees would be fine, how about $1.00 monthly? From millions of readers they’d be just fine. $8 bucks a month for every news organization you normally come across daily will cost you more than your cable, phone and internet bill combined.

  3. I won’t pay. That means won’t see their advertisers’ content. I won’t be alone.

    Eventually, revenue will decline, and they’ll choose another method.

  4. Business decision or not I cant believe the Trib is not getting revenue from online advertising. It has been years since newspapers survived on their subscription income. Newpapers need to develop new revenue streams and ideas to generate income from online views, just like Giggle, Yabadayoohoo, Flitter and Facebutt before charging for content, there are just too many other sources of competition that are free.

  5. The Salt Lake Tribune guilt tripped me into turning my ad blocker off. Something I almost never do.
    Then they turn around and tell me that I have to pay them for the privilege of being exposed to their advertisers, so that I can read an article that was actually taken from the Washington Post.

    Why would I pay the Salt Lake Tribune for that?

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