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‘I think Rupert Murdoch made the wrong choice this time’ wrote the Daily Telegraph’s media and technology specialist Shane Richmond on Murdoch’s decision to erect a paywall around the Times and Sunday Times. A number of media commentators share that view believing that the winners will the Guardian, who could emerge as one of the champions of free-to-air digital content. Others are more cautious and wonder what would happen if Murdoch does indeed succeed and speculate on the then fate of free to air content. There was a brief debate on this important topic which I overlooked in my blog and am now pleased to put right. NEC member Tim Dawson kindly forwarded me the article below, which I hope will start a debate on just what the union’s position should be on paywalls. After all branches will be getting their motions together for next year’s delegate conference later this year. The article may also be found at:

NUJ: if Murdoch’s paywall works – great

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010 by Tim

Hackles rose among some of the ranks in the National Union of Journalists when an article in Prospect magazine suggested the Britain’s largest journalist’s organisation had taken a position against the News International paywall.

Union vice-president Donnacha DeLong was quick to point out that the magazine’s article inaccurately represented his and the union’s position – which he set out in the following letter.

I’m afraid Joy Lo Dico’s article about Rupert Murdoch’s paywall rather seriously misrepresents NUJ policy and my views as expressed to her in an interview. I’ll start with the piece directly attributed to me – “DeLong says journalists, unlike singers, are not paid for each piece of work, so such a model won’t necessarily benefit the NUJ’s members.” That’s wrong on two counts, what I actually said was that journalists are not normally paid for each reader (unlike musicians who are paid royalties from every copy of their music sold or played in public). I would never say that journalists are not paid for each piece of work when a large number of our freelance members are paid per article (others, and most staff journalists, are paid by time rather than output).

As to whether the NUJ supports the paywall, we are not so much withholding support, but adopting a wait and see approach. If it works, great, it will be one way to help pay for professional journalism. However, it is unlikely to be the only solution to the funding problems the industry currently faces. The NUJ is investigating a range of different ways to help fund quality journalism, as we don’t not expect a one-size-fits all solution to work. Also, we do not oppose those newspapers who continue to offer their content free on the web and are looking for other ways to make the money to pay for it.

There is no love lost between the NUJ and Rupert Murdoch, but there’s no advantage to the NUJ if his plans fail. We want to see new models to make journalism pay, but we need to be sure that they work and that they’re appropriate to the sector of the media they being applied to. Any other position would be irresponsible.

Donnacha DeLong, Vice President, NUJ.’