I've spent the weekend mulling over a few comments from readers about what content should be locked on our website.
Loyal readers of the Mercury in print have been paying for the news since 1855. There is an expectation that money must pass hands to read our curated news product, and we thank you for staying with us.
But free access to online news is up for debate. The Mercury put adigital paywall into place three years ago, and we are grateful to the thousands of loyal digital subscribers who support our endeavours.
It should come as no surprise that media organisations need to diversify their income, and subscriptions play a role in ensuring the Illawarra will continue to have a local newspaper for decades to come.
Our paywall is a mixture of locked, free and metered content. Metered is when you get five articles for free.
To give you a look under the curtain, we make calls about what content should be free in the newsroom.
Bushfires, COVID-19 exposures sites and floods are all easy decisions to make. If there is a threat to life, we remove the paywall.
We also apply a few other questions to our decision making.
These include is the information freely available to readers on other websites? Have our journalists had to put in the effort to track down the case studies, undertake the interviews, and take the photographs? Are we the only news publishers telling this story?
Our local election coverage is a case in point.
Our ward by ward round-up of candidates is free. We think it is in the interests of local democracy to provide this content free, and this information is readily available from Election NSW.
Our deeper dives around what candidates are saying about the issues are paid-for. Our reporter has spent many hours curating this content in a way no other news outlet is doing at a local level. We believe people should pay to read this content.
The Windang shooting at the weekend is an example of content that we left on the meter (ie, it wasn't free or locked). We knew a large number of new readers would come to our site to read the story. Any non-subscribers who had read more than five articles in the last month would have to pay, and quite frankly, this suggests they should invest in our journalism since they are enjoying it so much.
I do not expect that we'll get this right every time, but it's clear our readers feel strongly about making sure certain types of news is available to all.
We'll continue to listen to the feedback and consider ways to make access to news more democratic - perhaps we need a 'pay it forward' scheme or another mechanism ( all suggestions are welcome).
If you already have a subscription, we thank you for investing in our journalism, and we'll continue to strive to make sure you are receiving value for your support.
If you haven't taken the plunge yet, we ask you to consider supporting us to continue to tell the stories no one else is telling on behalf of the Illawarra. We think the price you'll pay is worth it.
- Gayle Tomlinson