Sunday, April 29, 2012

Breaking through paywall with social media

If you wanted to read a newspaper for free in the old days, the only honest one way was to head to the library.

It turns out that there is an honest way to read some of a newspaper's content for free when it throws up a paywall. At least in the case of one of my former newspapers, the Daily Press of Newport News, Va.

As I wrote in this blog earlier this month, the Daily Press began on April 9 requiring readers to either subscribe to the print edition or pay a subscription fee in order to read stories on its website.

The newspaper has left a back-door entrance, though. If you click on a link posted by the Daily Press staff on Twitter or Facebook, you can read the story for free.

If you are mainly a sports fan of the teams the Daily Press covers, all you have to do is follow its sports department's Twitter feed, which I started a few years ago. (Considering how popular Twitter has become, it's almost funny how hard I had to work just to be allowed to use it initially.) You can also slip in the back door through the paywall by way of the sports department's Facebook page.

If you're more interested in high school sports, you can follow its high school sports Twitter account HRVarsity, like the HRVarsity Facebook page or follow on Twitter Peninsula District beat writer Dave Johnson or Bay Rivers District writer Marty O'Brien.

You can follow individual Twitter feeds if you enjoy the work of columnists David Teel and Dave FairbankNorm Wood, its beat writer for Virginia and Virginia Tech, or Melinda Waldrop, its local colleges beat writer.

This gives Daily Press writers visibility through social media that appeared to be be significantly reduced by the paywall.

All of this is a break for me. I've been back in North Carolina for nearly two years and don't read as many Daily Press stories as I did when I actually lived there. The current introductory rate of 99 cents for the first five weeks is no big deal. But I doubt I'd pay whatever the rate will be after that.

Does this back door access to free content defeat the purpose of putting up a paywall? Is this analogous to, in the old days, giving away newspapers at some of your racks?

I'm happy as a reader to find a way to read stories for free. But if the reason for putting up a paywall was to help the bottom line, the newspaper seems to be hurting its chances to do that with the social media back-door access to content.

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