The reality behind Subscriber Total Access

It’s not altogether clear where the notion arose, but there seems to be a deeply held belief among some that “The Internet should be free.”

Perhaps the belief is just based on what everyone got used to, based on the history that back in the day, when the Web first went world wide, everybody started putting stuff up online because virtually everyone else was doing it and nobody wanted to be left behind.

Most newspapers originally did it, ironically enough, as much as a defense mechanism as anything else. The concern back then was employment want ads, which quickly came under siege by Internet pirates, and newspapers reflexively went online with it to try to save what always has been a substantial revenue producer.

Whatever the reason, over time, everything did go online and most of it went up without charge and everybody did get used to the idea. We’ve gotten used to the idea, too; we use the Internet a lot for efficient research and we kind of like it when the information is just waiting out there for us without cost.

So we understand why some people might resist the idea that we’re asking, through invoices that will be reaching most print subscribers in the next few weeks, to be paid for our digital content in what we are calling Subscriber Total Access. Who, after all, is going to be happy about paying $1 a week more for something that used to come without a charge?

But what is harder to understand is the idea that some well-meaning people have that they have a “right” to free news and information.

One of our editors received a letter the other day in which the writer argued, “News should be for public viewing without restriction.” A few other critics of subscription-based digital access have seen it as virtually a First Amendment claim.

While it has the sound of great idealism, it is in reality a flight of fancy.

When we recently challenged an isolated case of blatant copyright violations — nothing less than thievery of the work we produce — the thieves behaved like we were the ones engaging in unethical conduct.

Let them and everyone else understand: We invest millions of dollars each year in reporters and editors and an infrastructure to research, write and present the news, to tell the stories of the suburbs, sometimes to expose wrongdoing that otherwise would not be exposed, to provide a bridge to understanding.

Millions of dollars.

While we are committed to the public good, how are we — or any other news organization — to continue our work and improve upon it if we are not compensated for our investment?

Does anyone go into a supermarket and try to argue that groceries should be free? Does anyone reroof a house and then expect the roofer to leave without being paid? How many products cost nothing to create?

There’s a popular patriotic saying that freedom isn’t free.

The reality is, journalism isn’t either.