One of these days I'm going to get around to posting some actual Rob-created content here again. Until then, check out Eric Burns-White's post on Websnark about the new media/old media divide. Here's a slice, but there's a lot more food for thought where this came from.
I don't know very many people who read a newspaper cover to cover, whether online or on paper. But a lot of people read articles that are germane to them right at that moment. Articles get linked on twitter or Livejournal. Google gathers these things together and points people at them when they're interested. And news sources that accept that they're a brief stopover on one's daily web journey get far more traffic than news sources that make a person jump through hoops to get the news. Bring money into the equation, and suddenly that readership drops by another order of magnitude or two. Robert Murdoch and those like him may assert the value of their goods, and equally assert that content must be paid for, but the only thing they can possibly do is make their content irrelevant to the broader world that's coming.
Let me repeat that.
The only thing paywalls or other direct monetization can do for newspapers or any other topical content is make it irrelevant to the world of the internet age.
Burns-White goes on to assert that convenience trumps all other characteristics of the content: quality, reliability, etc. On a level playing field, quality will out. But if there's even a little hurdle to cross before reaching it--even free registration--some other content filling the same niche will get the hits instead.
From experience, I know convenience affects my behavior. I read Krugman, Dowd, Herbert, and Rich all the time for a while at the New York Times' site. Then they erected a paywall, which lasted for a while, and I stopped. (For a little while, I went to a pirate site to read them, but that was too much hassle.) Now there's no longer a pay wall... and I read them occasionally. Usually when someone links to Herbert or Krugman, and Maureen Dowd, very rarely at all. Frank Rich is the only one of the bunch I seek out on my own.
I don't know what that says, really. Except that even some temporary inconvenience can break a consumer habit.