Letter from the editor: When should readers pay for news articles?


Journalist Maxine Bernstein spent several days working on her compelling and tragic story about two McDaniel High School teenagers who died after taking counterfeit pills police suspect were made with fentanyl. When we first published his article on OregonLive, it was only available to subscribers.

This is part of our strategy to increase digital subscriptions: the latest news available in multiple places remains free; corporate reports that require more time, expertise or analysis from our writers are reserved for paying subscribers.

Back when we only had a printed newspaper, there was never any question of news having a cost. Unless they found an abandoned newspaper in a cafe, readers expected to pay the price of a newspaper’s cover.

When newspapers launched websites, they usually disseminated the information for free. Readers have gotten used to it and sometimes object when they can’t read an article without a subscription.

There is another consideration: should some information remain free as a public service? Fentanyl is a dangerous drug, and there is certainly a strong public interest in raising awareness of the danger.

That’s why we’ve usually kept some breaking news for everyone – for example, coverage of wildfires or the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Fortunately, we have great flexibility on OregonLive. After the issue was raised internally, we removed the subscriber-only key from the fentanyl article, making it available to everyone.

Sometimes this is done in reverse: publish an article for free for a while, then put it behind the paywall.

Print subscribers, of course, get all of our exclusive in-depth coverage in The Oregonian. Like most newspapers, we rely on paid subscribers to support our high-quality local reporting. We thank our supporters and will continue to work to find the best balance between free and paid work on OregonLive for our community.

Here are some questions and comments from readers who have crossed my desk recently:

Q: I wonder who approved this headline “The Rise of Anfernee Simons: ‘It Was an Absolute Monster’; March 16). Black boys and men don’t need that.

A: This title was released in print editions in the Sports section on the first part of an excellent three-part series by Trail Blazer beat writer Aaron Fentress. The title appeared in a photo of a young Simons posing for the camera with another black child.

Journalists don’t write headlines. This happens later in the process after designing the page and editing the copy. Journalists, sometimes in consultation with editors, often write the headline that appears on OregonLive.

Print has space constraints: headlines need to sum up a complex story in just a few words. Online, headlines should do all of that, but also make it easy for search engines to find the story when readers search for information on the topic.

In this case, I thought the reader was right. Although most readers would take the title to mean a “monster” in the sporting context, the print title lacked the undertones of the online title, which read: Absolute Monster.

Comment: Here we go again. Men’s basketball is titled “Basketball”, but women’s basketball is “Women’s Basketball” as if it weren’t as important.

Response: “We definitely try to always include ‘men’ or ‘women’ online,” sportswriter Joel Odom tells me, “but I’m sure we had some hiccups.” He adds, “Sometimes it’s ‘Men’s NCAA Tournament’ or ‘WNIT’ (Women’s National Invitation Tournament) in titles and text, not always the exact phrase.”

The photos that accompany the stories can also clearly indicate the games we are talking about. But we certainly don’t mean to imply that the “real” sport is basketball and then there’s this other sport called women’s basketball.

Q: I am trying to reach what used to be called the newspaper morgue to try to order several hard copies of the March 18, 2002 newspaper. I would need 10 copies.

A: The newspaper’s library is indeed called the “morgue”, for reasons that escape me. When I got to the newspaper, we had a room with rows of revolving shelves. Inside these would be folders filled with neatly cut and labeled news articles and, in the photo library, archived photographs.

Our archives are now available online. The content of The Oregonian and The Oregon Journal has been digitized and can be viewed from your computer.

You can search The Oregonian at oregonlive.com/archives by keyword or date. Browsing is free but there are modest fees for downloading.

Readers who have a Multnomah County library card, or who are members of a library with a reciprocal agreement, can access The Oregonian and Journal archives for free at multcolib.org.

Subscribers to our eNewspaper, the page-by-page replica of the daily, have access to a 30-day archive as part of their subscription. We no longer have a back copies service for purchasing back hard copies.

Thank you to all of our subscribers, be it The Oregonian, OregonLive or the eNewspaper. You make our vital work possible.


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