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A simple way to keep news free

Published 10:21pm Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Newspapers everywhere are grappling with whether to charge readers for access to news on the Internet.

So-called “paywalls” on newspaper websites are rising and falling daily, it seems. Just this week came news that the Toronto Star would join the ranks of paid access, while the San Francisco Chronicle announced that it was ending a failed experiment with online subscriptions after just five months. Closer to home, the Virginian-Pilot has announced plans to erect a paywall in the weeks ahead.

Here in Suffolk, the News-Herald went “all in” with free content two years ago, when we made even our print edition free. While we watch the actions of other newspapers with interest, we remain firmly convinced that the key to profitability is to deliver news and information to as many people as possible, both in print and online, then monetize that audience through advertising sales.

Businesses that purchase advertising space want prospective customers’ eyeballs on their ads, so it’s logical to make access to those ads as easy as possible for readers.

It’s working well for us so far.

A fairly new partnership with Google has strengthened our commitment to keeping online news free.

Our regular online readers have encountered Google Consumer Surveys when reading stories on www.suffolknewsherald.com. After the first paragraph or two of a news story, readers are asked to complete a one- or two-question survey in order to view the rest of the story.

Opinions gathered from the surveys are valuable to national companies, which pay Google, which in turn pays us a few cents for each completed survey. It’s not huge money for us, but it helps subsidize the salaries of our editors and reporters and the cost of maintaining a website.

Most of you have been good sports, if not enthusiastic participants, in completing the Google surveys. A few of you are annoyed beyond measure — and have told us so. We appreciate the feedback but ask for your continued indulgence.

After all, it could be worse. The next time a newspaper wants to charge you to read an article online, think of our relatively painless alternative. We’d much rather ask you what laundry detergent you prefer than ask for your credit-card number.

Steve Stewart is publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald. His email address is steve.stewart@suffolknewsherald.com.

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