Editor of The Times Goes Online to Answer (Not Very Many) Questions on Impending Paywall

<a href=James Harding" width="480" height="320" />

Following on from this morning's news that two of Rupert Murdoch's British newspapers are to start charging, James Harding, editor of The Times, braved the Intertubes for a Q&A with his readers. Although there were no googlies bowled at him, he argued that £2 a week was pretty cheap compared to the £8.50 a week's supply of the dead-tree press versions of his publication would cost. And the online version would bring its readers so much more.

"We can do so much more online," he said. "We can provide video, interactive graphics, personalized news feeds and a chance for people to engage directly with our journalists." The design, he said, would be cleaner, clearer and stronger, with "much of the architecture of the paper, but all of the versatility made possible by digital media."

Harding stressed that the scheme was attempting to change the dynamics of the newspaper business—something that Jeff Jarvis disputed in the Guardian today, claiming he felt nothing but pity for "old man" Murdoch. The editor's take on it, however, was different. "Instead of just defending a dwindling band of existing readers, we're aiming to reach out to a world of people who want to get information and ideas but not from the printed page. They look to their phones and their laptops and their TVs to inform them. We want to be there—and on a host of new devices to come."

The tens of millions of unique users were "window shoppers," and Harding stated that he was ready to lose them, although he thought that the existing online readers who read TimesOnline would subscribe to TheTimes.co.uk, as it will be known when it relaunches in May. Accessible to everyone for the first month, the paywall will come down around June time, when only the front page will free for all.

One questioner asked him whether he would stick or twist if the scheme did not take off. "Nope," he replied. "Just hide under this desk."

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  • Alexander Hoffmann

    While this isn't the best thing from my student point of view, I'm in favour of paid newspapers online.
    If I had the choice whether to read the weekly newspaper I subscribe to (Zeit.de), on an iPad versus on dead trees, I'd immediately chose the first option.
    Right now I pay €8,60 per month for my subscription (student discount). If they (Zeit.de) matched the NY Times's example from the iPad keynote in terms of design innovation, a price between €6 and €7,50 per month would be fine with me.

    The quality of the reporting doesn't change because the medium changes (or at least it doesn't have to)
    and the potential benefits of media integration are far greater than the risk of loosing your beloved paper feel J. Jonah Jameson.