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Los Angeles Times joins the crowd, erects pay wall for the news online

The Los Angeles Times is offering a wide range of online subscriptions. But will pay walls save ailing print newspapers or just guarantee their ultimate demise?

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“Fast and easy connectivity is the life blood of the Internet,” he says, "and anything that does not keep pace with that will shrink.”
 
Pay walls may prove effective for outlets with particular strengths such as size or exclusivity, says Anthony DePalma, a journalism professor at Seton Hall University who worked at The New York Times for 22 years before leaving in 2008.

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“The pay wall may work for a few very large publications, and those that are very local and therefore unique,” he writes via e-mail But, he adds, “the landscape for all those in between is gloomy indeed.”

He is not willing to throw in the towel, however.

“This matters greatly to us as a society because without some way to provide support for the difficult but critically-important work of journalism, much of it will go undone,” Mr. DePalma says.

One way to look at it, he suggests, is to compare news with bus service.

“Without some kind of financial support, only the most lucrative bus lines into Manhattan can survive. The difficult work of picking up working-class people and getting them to and from work, home, the hospital, etc. gets ignored if not for some kind of public commitment. Without the legacy media there will be news, much of it available free of charge, but not enough of it will be the kind that really matters,” he adds.
 
Others say this sort of hand-wringing is precisely what is preventing the newspaper industry from adapting to a digital world, with all new rules of the road.

“Competition is what will make these outlets better, not worse,” says Chris Tolles, chief executive officer of Topix, the largest online local forum site in the US. “They have to make the case that what they are offering has real value.”

He notes that he is a paid digital subscriber to The New York Times for that reason.

“I value what they do and don’t want it to go away,” he says. But newspapers, he adds, need to be more adaptable as they try to make this transition – and stop trying to recover the glory days back when they were cash cows with upward of 20 percent profit margins.
 
“Those monopoly days are gone forever,” he says. “Journalists need to be more humble.”

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[Editor's note: A previous version of this story mischaracterized the subscription options for digital access.]

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