Old habits die hard and everyone knows it is pretty impossible to teach an old dog new tricks.
But the FT isn't past trying.
Financial Times editor Lionel Barber predicts that within a year most news sites will be charging for content. He's bedded in with Rupert Murdoch in their stance against 'free' and they are both (now) very outspoken that the free online newspaper content model is broken.
The trouble is, there is a world of difference between being annoyed at a business model you yourself had a hand in setting up, when you find it doesn't work, and changing that model when you've already trained your audience to expect something else.
Freesheets are marked by crappy, poorly researched journalism and they're, on the whole, bad for the media scene. If you want proper intelligent journalism you should need to pay a small fee and enable the journalists to eat. I get that side of the argument, I do, and I often make it myself. I also get the 'give bits away for free and then charge for heavy usage' model that the FT claims to have invented. Although I read lots of stories on the FT's website and never seem to have to pay.
And so the fact remains that only 1 per cent of users actually go on to pay for journalistic content. If the newspaper industry is serious about this battle against 'free,' they need to make that 1 per cent their worst enemy and do something very clever indeed to increase it. With the (very free) blogosphere breaking every major news story, the (very free) Google enabling access to news stories at the touch of a mouse, the (very free) digital media sector enabling news at a glance and making it possible to read nothing beyond headlines for your daily news diet, and kids in our societies being brought up on a diet of free, this is not a job I'd want to handle.
Furthermore, dare I say it, but in countries like the UK with socialised media (the Beeb's online news site) giving great content away for free to the taxpayer, and probably rightly so, it's never going to work. In the US, I think there is more of a fighting chance with independent regional papers leading the newspaper scene.
And at the end of the day, no one feels that bad for Murdoch or the big papers at the loss of their profit margins. But everyone mourns the loss of their local paper and the horrible impact that has on unwatched politicians free to play with information at their choosing, unmanned regulators and all the implications of the loss of an investigative press. It's the small, local papers that suffer and we suffer with them. And the primary reason for their downfall is not free content being available online, but the free classified advertising marketplace the internet creates.
What do you think?