The Times paywall and the online conversation

The numbers are out at The Times is claiming 105,000 subscribers to its paywalled-websites. Even The Guardian, which has been throwing buckets of cold sick over the paywall project for a good while now, concluded in one article that ‘It is still far too soon to judge the Times paywall experiment’. That said, Roy Greenslade has concluded it isn’t a new business model.

Perhaps the most ironic  criticism of the paywall has been that it would remove The Times from the ‘online conversation.’ Ironic in the sense that it’s unlikely The Times has ever been talked about more than since it went behind a paywall.

But in all seriousness, Times editor James Harding says it hasn’t removed The Times from the online conversation. He points out to the fact that, behind the paywall, journalists now engage more thoroughly with subscribers.

To me, the idea that every journalist must be part of the online conversation is one I think is worth challenging. Sure, journalists loved to be talked about, but does a paywall instantly mean people stop talking about them?

No, I don’t think it does. Harding cites that the media is a bit like an echo chamber and there stories are regularly picked up elsewhere. There’s also nothing stopping Times journalists from joining in conversations which are already taking place elsewhere anyway.

Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political editor, was recently criticised for refusing to join in online discussion with people who posted comments on his blog. Yet does he remain part of the online conversation just because his content is free to view.

To me, the Times’ experiment demonstrates that journalists can be a brand’s best marketeers – getting out there, talking to people and joining in discussions when relevant, wherever they are taking place. Just as they’ve always done.

Numbers will ultimately decide the fate of the Times paywall discussion – but it’s already shown that you don’t need to give everything away for free to still be relevant to any conversation.

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