by Frank Schnittger
Sun Jul 4th, 2010 at 08:55:30 AM EST
As some here may know, I started my brief career as a blogger on Timesonline a couple of years ago. I soon got fed up of the abusive comments and always having to respond to an agenda being set by someone else. So when I discovered The European and Booman Tribunes, I gradually migrated here. I still used Times content for the occasional Lazy Quote Diary, but otherwise I can't say I miss Timesonline much. I like the idea of writing for a wider audience, but not at the price of being framed by the agendas of others.
Now the Murdoch owned Times has introduced a paywall and those who have remained there tell me the new site doesn't work very well with comments frequently disappearing or not being published at all. My limited experience of the new site during my free trial period indicated that it was extremely resource intensive, constantly launching videos and advertisements I didn't want, and constantly requiring me to log in again and not letting my browser store my login details. The navigation structure was also surprisingly poor and all the effort seems to have gone into creating a graphic rich environment which mimicked the look and feel of the print edition as closely as possible.
So all in all, deciding not to join the "paid experience" wasn't even a close call for me even at only a fiver a month. I can get much of the same content for free elsewhere, and keeping up to date with British Establishment "thinking" has never been one of life's greater pleasures for me. However I wonder if I would have signed up for the paid experience if the site had been better and alternative sources of free information more limited? I don't currently pay for content anywhere on the internet, so why should I start now? Is my opposition to paying for internet content principled or pragmatic?
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I don't have a problem making donations to sites or organisations whose objectives I support and whose continued existence is dependent on such donations. If my work depended on having access to specialised sites I would write off any expenses occurred like any other work expense. I appreciate that generating good content and developing and maintaining a site costs money. I derive so much pleasure from blogging in general that refusing to pay for at least some of it seems parsimonious and churlish. If someone else where to offer to pay me for writing about stuff that I would be interested in writing about anyway I would probably jump at the chance, particularly if it provided access to a wider readership.
So why do I have an abiding sense that the fact that the internet is broadly free and available to all is one of life's most treasured freedoms, up there with democracy and the right to protest? The internet may only be a few decades old, and many still don't have access to it: But for me it has become so central to my life it has almost acquired the status of a human right. Keeping in touch with friends and family world wide, communicating with those you love, and writing for anyone who wants to read has become one of the central passions of my life.
My kids were born into the Facebook generation, but for me it has been one of the most liberating experiences in my life: freeing me from the constraints of time and place, from the expense and necessity of travel in many instances, and from the sense of loneliness when alone. My TV watching has declined to the occasional sports event; my radio listening to occasional news and current affairs programmes; my phone calls reduced by Facebook, Hotmail, Live Messenger and the occasional Skype; my music listening largely now centred on YouTube. I can read free newspapers from all over the world, gen up on particular topics on Wikipedia, and find specialised information on just about any topic I want through Google.
So why pay for those few sites of often tendentious content from media moguls who often seek to undermine democracy with their political and commercial agendas? Should I not refuse to pay for Times or WSJ content on principle rather than just by personal choice? Is there a difference in principle in paying for a general news and ideology site as opposed to (say) a specialised scientific journal which furthers the progress of science and can only survive by charging a subscription?
I would welcome other peoples views on this.