The paywall has now gone up at Alaska’s largest online news site.
You can pay to gain access, or you can be a good American capitalist and use the tools available to you to get a better deal.
Yes, you can continue to read the Alaska Dispatch News online for free if you want. This is not hard.
If you use the Firefox browser, the secret entry to free news is the “escape” key on the upper, left-hand corner of your keyboard. To read a story for free, click on the story and as soon as it starts to load, hit the ESC key. This will stop the story blocker from uploading.
Chrome, Explorer and other web browsers might require a different command, but they all allow you to instantly stop an upload.
When you do this, the pop-up demanding money is blocked. What is left on your screen is the story you wanted to read. There are workarounds for ADN.com to prevent this sort of easy access, but they will likely cost the company a little money.
Until they are put in place, if they are put in place, just block the upload.
Beating the system
ADN.com will not be happy about what is being reported here. Dispatch publisher Alice Rogoff believes Alaska has a community responsibility to support the newspaper she owns.
Unfortunately, not enough Alaskans share her view. The circulation of the Alaska Dispatch newspaper keeps shrinking and shrinking and shrinking. And the revenues from ADN.com aren’t anywhere near high enough to support the exorbitant costs of producing a now six-day-per-week newspaper.
Given the economic realities, Rogoff has decided to enforce her belief a newspaper is a community responsiblity by requiring payment to access a website she has long proclaimed should be free.
“In 2014, when Alaska Dispatch purchased the Anchorage Daily News, the first thing we changed was to make all our digital content free. We believed then — as I still believe — that publishing the news is a public service, and we wanted our new, broader content to be accessible to all Alaskans and everyone in the world who wanted to know more about this wonderful place,” she wrote in an editorial only a month ago.
“I still feel that way. Publishing the news is a way of contributing to a ‘civil society’ and I still want our news to be available to anyone who wants to be better informed about Alaska and the issues that affect us.”
Whether the January statement was delusional or disingenuous only Rogoff knows, but it ran entirely contrary to what followed in the editorial: the announcement that the news important to “civil society” would NOT be “accessible to all Alaskans and everyone in the world.”
Henceforth, it would be available only to those with the means to pay. There is nothing wrong with this. It is capitalism at work, and capitalism is not a perfect economic system. It is simply the one that conforms to nature. It recognizes the world is driven by the desire of all animals to get fat.
Capitalism is an inherently unfair system, but there is no fair system. Every economic system has its flaws. Given those flows, capitalism is arguably the best system because it harnesses the power of competition to make the world a better place. You are reading this on a computer screen today because of the power of competition driving computers and, later, the internet to where we are now.
As a profit-driven, capitalistic move, Rogoff’s decision to place ADN content behind a paywall might be a good decision or a bad one. Some online news operations have found the paywall works. Others have tried a paywall and abandoned it after losing viewers. Advertisers need viewers.
Advertisers can’t sell you things unless you see their advertising. The old Alaska Dispatch was built around the advertising model. The old Dispatch also recognized it was never going to bring in the sort of advertising revenue a newspaper brings in. So it countered by keeping costs low and productivity high.
It also lost money as it worked its way toward profitability. That is way things work for internet start-ups.
The Dispatch never reached profitability though it was moving in that direction when Rogoff ended the experiment and paid $34 million to buy the Anchorage Daily News from The McClatchy Company. Her financial advisers told her it was a bad investment. The price was too high, but she believed the purchase was going to enable her to soon begin making a profit.
She was still singing that tune as late as last year when she wrote an editoriall “To quote (Washington Post owner) Jeff Bezos, we’re in ‘investment mode’*” The asterisk led to an explanation at the bottom of the editorial explaining that Bezos “was distinguishing between operating at a financial loss versus making a planned choice to invest in future growth.”
The editorial itself focused on all the news things Dispatch was doing to try to make money. “We’re continuing to develop new lines of business— new features that provide value to you, our readers,” it said.
Obviously, those news lines of business didn’t produce enough value to the Dispatch to fix its financial problems. Reliable sources now say Rogoff has lost more money – significantly more money – in the three years she has owned ADN.com than in the six years of Dispatch.
Thus she faced a choice as 2016 drew to an end: She either had to seriously reduce the costs of producing her product or find a way to increase revenue. She voted in favor of the latter and put up the paywall. Her argument as expressed in that January editorial was this:
“When you read a story with an ADN byline, the person responsible for it is a full-time employee of ours. We have more of them — along with editors, photographers and columnists — than many local news organizations in far larger places.
“Until now, we chose to stick to the old business model in which advertisers alone shoulder these costs, along with the traditional paper subscribers. But as more and more of our readers move to mobile, it’s clear we can’t rely on a revenue model that doesn’t involve reader support any more than we can deliver our print newspaper for free.
“That’s why, beginning this month, we will be asking our digital readers to make an investment in quality local news the way our print readers do.”
Request versus demand
Only she wasn’t “asking.” Asking is what Alaska Public Media does. The local affiliate of the Public Broadcasting Service, APM – which combines TV, radio and online news – conducts fundraisers to ask for money.
What ADN is doing is “demanding” payment. It is not “asking” for anything. This is not about “reader support.” This is not about offering anyone an “investment.” This is selling a service, just like any other business.
Arctic Roadrunner doesn’t offer you an “investment” in a burger and “ask” you to pay to show your “support.” It sells you a tasty burger for a price the owners believe justified, and you make the decision on whether you want to buy.
If you were given the choice of paying or not, some number of you might well accept the burger for free.
Unfortunately for ADN, the service it is selling is available free to the more sophisticated users of the internet. You can pay for the service if you want, but there is no reason you shouldn’t feel free to use it for free since its available for free.
There is nothing illegal or immoral about hitting that escape key to stop a pop-up blocker from loading. You are not stealing anything. You are simply stepping around a barrier on the internet highway to read what is written on a billboard.
The worth of what is written there is then up to you to decide. Some might question the credibility of a news organization that tells you it is “asking” when it is, in fact, “requiring.” Or at least trying to do the latter.
But if what it really intended to do was ask – in the style of Alaska Public Media or craigmedred.news (which have no paywalls) or as Rogoff herself wrote in January – you should feel absolutely guilt free in hitting the escape key.
And afterward, if you’ve found something you think valuable, then send ADN a check or drop them a few dollars in an envelope. That is how it works when a website “asks.”
I ask for contributions here. I could argue those contributions are an “investment” in better Alaska news coverage, but I won’t. This might be my opinion, but I’m not so full of myself that I think it should be everyone’s opinion.