Perry: Paywall, please!

Alex Perry, Columnist

The Daily Northwestern is in a unique position to adopt leading business models, yet we rely on an outdated mix of advertisements and donations to pay full-time editorial board members stipends as low as 59 cents an hour. 

This pay is even lower for assistant editors, whose time commitment is sandwiched between the aforementioned full-time editors and reporters. It’s a sorry state for the leading publication at the top school for undergraduate journalism, but it’s one that can be remedied by implementing dynamic paywalls. However, there’s still some contemplation we need to do. 

Before asking readers to pay for content, we have to ask ourselves: is what we’re producing worth paying for? If the information from our guides can be found online or if our news briefs are regurgitated University emails, then I’m not comfortable putting a price on what those in our immediate community can find out for free. 

In short: our work is not enough to be billable until readers have a reliance on the information we provide. Los Angeles Times Executive Editor Kevin Merida said it best: “If we can be ‘central to your lives,’ then ‘we can become irresistible.’” Merida hints toward what every business owner wants for their product — a reality where consumers can’t exist without it. 

To achieve this, we have to transform the digital experience. A college campus is the perfect environment for media innovation, so it’s unfathomable to me why The Daily is lagging in a continuous game of catch-up. Our staff doesn’t need to adapt to a digital age — we were raised in it. Because of this, we can borrow tools created by the generation above (dynamic paywalls, for example) and modify them to our needs. 

Using artificial intelligence, a dynamic paywall analyzes factors like a viewer’s history, location and device, and can choose between displaying a paywall, requesting an email subscription or displaying nothing at all. Top outlets like The Globe and Mail and The New York Times have already implemented them to incredible success. At The Globe and Mail, its dynamic paywall has increased email registrations by 130 percent and increased subscriptions by 51 percent. At The New York Times last year, digital revenue exceeded print for the first time, despite the publication waiving paywalls for pandemic-related coverage. 

The ideal dynamic paywall for our paper would work using the same three options. Similar to The New York Times, we would waive high-impact service journalism pieces. This may seem counterintuitive. Why would a business unlock their best material? It’s because local coverage that garners national attention — recent examples covered by The Daily include NU Community Not Cops Protests and racial discrimination within the cheerleading program — would generate more revenue for our paper through advertisements, not subscriptions. Continuous visitors, those who rely on us for hyperlocal coverage, are the ones who could net our paper both advertising and subscription profits. 

As Evanston’s longest standing paper of record, we’re in a market with little competition. Besides word of mouth and social media, The Daily Northwestern has historically dominated the local information scene, yet we choose not to maximize profits.

On top of staying up until as late as 3 a.m. to pull issues together, editors are full-time students balancing schoolwork, jobs and internships. Without direct community support, it’s easy to feel underappreciated. The quality of journalism will increase if working at The Daily is financially attractive to top talent, as students who may have to sacrifice journalism experience for a paying job to support themselves may afford to join the paper at that point. Medill’s reputation already attracts those passionate about journalism into Evanston; The Daily just needs to incentivize them to join our ranks and deliver quality reporting for the community. 

The Daily Northwestern is not just a place for Medill students to earn clips and experience; it’s a regular publication that informs and serves a community that critically depends on us. And if we’re as essential as we claim to be, then perhaps it’s time our paper puts a price on the work we produce. 

Alex Perry is a Medill sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @WhoIsAlexPerry

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