Providence Journal joins fray, contemplates pay wall

Yet another newspaper is considering putting its content behind a pay wall — and this one seems serious. The Providence Journal announced today it may start charging for its web content as early as next March, limiting online access to the smallest state’s largest newspaper. A team of “internal senior managers” is already looking into possible pay models, according to the Thursday Journal article. Good thing the ProJo’s online articles are still free, or newspaper readers in the Ocean State would never know they were soon to lose their biggest source of news — the announcement was buried on the paper’s Web site.

The decision comes on the heels of a series of abysmal reports for the Rhode Island paper. During the third quarter, ad revenue dropped 33.1 percent, according to figures released by the ProJo’s parent company, Dallas-based A.H. Belo Corp. And last month, the Audit Bureau of Circulations twice-annual circulation report revealed the ProJo had recorded a steep 18.8-percent drop in daily circulation and a 17.3-percent drop in Sunday circulation for the six-month period starting last April.

The paper’s publisher, Howard Sutton, said the talks were preliminary, though he suggested daily subscribers would continue to receive free online access if the paper did implement a pay-wall structure. “We don’t want to diminish the breadth and depth of our reporting, so we want to ensure a reasonable cost structure to protect the franchise,” Sutton told the Journal on Wednesday.

But Sutton’s claim rings slightly false: last March, the ProJo slashed 100 staff positions, and, during the last few years, has limited its sports coverage.

The Journal did, however, manage to scrounge together enough funds earlier this year to hire a team of visual designers to redesign its print edition. It’s just too bad no one will see the paper’s cool new appearance: one of the reasons Sutton wants to start charging for online content is because he said his readers are turning away from the print edition to the paper’s free online articles.

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