Paywalls and Access to Online News

Media organizations use different combinations of paywalls and free access in providing information to readers and viewers. In the following activity, you evaluate your levels of access to different sources of news and information on television and newspapers.

For many people in the United States and around the world, access to news online is limited by paywalls, a method of restricting information to those who pay for it through purchases or subscriptions. Paywalls are now an ever-present feature of today’s online news media environment.

Brick wall
Image by Pexels is under Pixabay License

Researchers from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford (2019) looked at four types of news outlets in the United States and Europe (i.e., daily newspapers, weekly newspapers and news magazines, Television news, and digital news) and found three primary types of paywalls across the platforms:

Many major newspapers and news magazines charge readers for some or all of their digital content using a freemium model. The New York Times or The Washington Post, for example, require paid subscriptions to view all of their content while making some stories, especially those related to pressing news, free to the public. OnThe Washington Post Coronavirus page there is a note that states: "The Washington Post is providing our daily live updates, comprehensive guide to the pandemic and our Coronavirus Updates newsletter for free, so that all readers have access to this important information about the coronavirus pandemic." 

Paywalls are not the only business model being used by digital news companies. Some choose to make money by collecting, selling, and using data from visitors to their websites. They collect personally identifiable information from readers, share it with third-parties to create targeted advertising profiles, and then populate their news website with targeted ads. The revenue from user data and targeted advertisements allows these news outlets to "freely" share their articles with the public.

Certain right-wing digital news outlets, as well as Fox News Channel (Fox News is the most watched channel with some 2.14 million viewers in 2021), have the advantage of providing information for free while the New York Times and other center-leaning sources provide access to information behind different types of paywalls.

The implications of pay-for-news business practices are huge. Paywalls mean that unless people are willing or able to pay for news sources, they will get ‘locked out’ of information gathered by credible and trustworthy journalists.

At a time when everyone is encouraged to pay close attention to current events, what happens when people who can't afford subscriptions or purchase articles are restricted from accessing information from news outlets? 

Activity: Compare and Contrast Access to Major Newspapers and Television News


Connecting to the Building Democracy for All eBook

Building Democracy for All: Digital News and Social Media

Connecting to the Standards

  • Massachusetts Civics & Government Standards
    • Evaluate the benefits and challenges of digital news and social media to a democratic society. (Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for History and Social Studies) [8.T7.4]
  • ISTE Standards
    • Digital Citizen
      • 2d: Students manage their personal data to maintain digital privacy and security and are aware of data-collection technology used to track their navigation online.
    • Knowledge Constructor
      • 3b: Students evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data or other resources.
      • 3d: Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions. 
    • Creative Communicator
      • 6a: Students choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication.
      • 6b: Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.
      • 6d: Students publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for their intended audiences.
  • DLCS Standards
    • Safety and Security (CAS.a)
    • Interpersonal and Societal Impact (CAS.c)
    • Digital Tools (DTC.a)
    • Collaboration and Communication (DTC.b)
    • Research (DTC.a)
  • English Language Arts > History/Social Studies Common Core Standards

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Access it online or download it at https://edtechbooks.org/mediaandciviclearning/onlinenews.