S. Wayne Carter
S. Wayne Carter

Go into your favorite pizza shop, and order a large with pepperoni and extra cheese, and you expect to pay for it. But order that same pie online and it's free, right?

Spend an afternoon shopping at Boscov's, Belk, Walmart, Target or Kohl's and pick out of couple of new outfits, then pay at the register. Visit that retailer's website, pick out the same clothes and don't pay a dime.

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A headline in the local newspaper catches your eye while you're waiting in line to buy your morning joe at a convenience store, so you pick up a copy and pay for it with your coffee. Find that same article on the paper's web page when you get to your office and read it for free.

Of course, those first two examples are pipe dreams. So why is it that the last one is the expectation for so many consumers of news, including many who read the Carroll County Times?

Well, for one thing, it's because restaurants and retailers never offered their products for free online, recognizing that the world wide web was simply another tool to peddle their wares. Publishers and editors in the newspaper industry, for whatever reason, decided decades ago to give their product — journalism — away for free on the internet.

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It's funny, and not in a good way, to hear some of our long-time newsroom employees talk about how leadership at the Times viewed the internet during its rise in the late 1990s. "In 1996, we joked that until you could take the computer into the bathroom with you, the print newspaper wasn't going anywhere," one staff member recently told me.

Oops. Hindsight being 20/20, news organizations should've been charging for online content from the very beginning. It's a mistake the industry has been trying to rectify for years.

The Carroll County Times hired me in 2007 and for at least half, if not most, of my 10-year career here, we've had what's known as a paywall on our website. Essentially, you may view a certain number of stories online for free, but must have a subscription to access unlimited articles. But the genie was already out of the bottle. Paywalls are wildly unpopular, largely because customers became accustomed to getting the content for free online, even though people have been paying for home delivery and single copies of the physical print paper at the newsstand pretty much as long as the medium has been around.

But the free content model was and continues to be simply unsustainable for the business, which is why paywalls were introduced. However, the newspaper industry continues to be late to the party when it comes to emerging technology and using it to monetize its content.

The latest example affecting the Times is this: Our parent company, Tronc (formerly known as Tribune Publishing) recently decided to change a workaround that existed in the paywall for its various news sites — social media. Previously, when readers clicked on links posted on Facebook or Twitter, it wouldn't count toward the number of free articles they could view on our website each month before hitting the paywall.

Over the years, social media has become the primary way consumers of news are accessing content — including that of the Carroll County Times. So, needless to say, some of our 29,000-plus Facebook followers have expressed their displeasure recently when they exceeded their free articles clicked on through social media and are now being asked to buy a subscription.

It's clear that these individuals value our content and the information it provides, otherwise why would they be trying to read it? Yet, some folks have responded that they refuse to pay for our content for one reason or another. That's their choice and we respect that. But I challenge them to find another outlet that covers Carroll County, Maryland, with the depth and breadth of the Carroll County Times.

Each day, we are publishing new articles including, but not limited to: what your elected officials are up to and how they are spending your tax dollars; crime reports in your neighborhood; how your kids', grandkids' and friend's kids' game went last night; what sort of fun activities are going on this weekend; local commentary on local news; stories about interesting people doing interesting things in your community, and more. And you won't find most of this information anywhere else.

Sign up for a digital subscription — which includes access to every piece of content on carrollcountytimes.com as well as the e-newspaper, an exact PDF replica of the print product — and try it out for the first four weeks for just 99 cents. It's just a $1.99 per week after that; less than 30 cents a day. And if you already have a print subscription, you also have digital access. You just need to go to our website and register.

We think our content is valuable, and hope you do too.

Wayne Carter is the editor of the Carroll County Times. Reach him at wayne.carter@carrollcountytimes.com.



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