Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to establish pay wall as early as January

That’s from an e-mail being circulated as said to be authored by Mark Belling.

I have learned that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel will very soon drop its free online site,, and switch to a paid internet model. This is not a secret. The newspaper has strongly implied it would begin charging for news provided online but the switchover will apparently occur early next year, perhaps as soon as January.

In an email response to me, J-S Publisher Betsy Brenner would not reveal details except to say print subscribers to the paper would be able to continue to access information online. This would seem to imply that readers will have two choices: buy the print edition and have access to online, or buy online only. It is unclear how much, if any, material will be available to those who pay nothing.

The big advantage for the newspaper is that it will be able to count online readers as “subscribers” once they start paying. The J-S has been victimized by plummeting circulation, in part because some people are choosing to read the paper online for free. The circulation numbers will presumably increase with the paid model.

Brenner has not said what the charge will be. The downside for the newspaper is that it may not be able to charge as much for online advertising as web numbers will obviously shrink once people are forced to pay to view the site.

Only a handful of U.S. newspapers are currently charging for their online product. The Wall Street Journal provides some online content for free but puts most of its material on a pay-only site.

Mark Belling
December 7, 2011

So there you go. We’ll see if this comes to pass. I will confess, this family let the MJS subscription expire a couple of months ago. So far, no great loss.


  1. I think they’re going to find that the MJS is not The New York Times. It’s not even the Wall Street Journal. Paywalls don’t work well for papers that are, in essence, wire service outlets.

  2. Crap! You ruined my weekend, Phil.

    We agreed on something.

  3. Then my work here is done… for now… 🙂

  4. I will never pay for a JS subscription, online or print.

  5. Meh. The Associated Press wire and local news stations are good enough for me. I don’t really need or use the journal.

  6. I’d really like to hear an executive with the company explain why they think this has any chance at all of working.

    Pay walls work when you provide a ton of unique content that no one else can match. For example, I subscribe to a site on college basketball that has a lot of advanced statistics that I find interesting and that no other site replicates. Plus, the cost is very reasonable.

    Pay walls fail when there are substitutes available, which is certainly the case for most content.

    Thus, their current practice of having most of the site free but a few things (in depth Packer coverage, for example) requiring an additional fee makes complete sense.

    Maybe I’m just naive, but I really don’t believe they could be dumb enough to try this. Newspapers are slowly being phased out, but there is still some money to be made for awhile on the gradual trajectory downward. Just get as much of a following as possible and you can charge a bit more when some mega-company eventually tries to buy you out (plus, you make some ad money in the meantime).

    Covering the entire site with a pay wall would have exactly one outcome: it would speed up the process of making the JSOnline completely irrelevant.

  7. For all I know they are pushing this advance to get a response before they make a decision.

  8. Everyone knows Mark Belling couldn’t have written that, otherwise it would have said the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal.

  9. LOL! I meant to go see if that’s on his website somewhere. Let me look…

    Ok, here it is:

  10. Without the Journal Sentinel who would keep an eye on Media Trackers, Sykes and other purveyors of untruthiness?

  11. I love it when people say “Screw newspapers! I will get all my news from the wire service!”. Well, over 90 percent of wire service news is just licenced newspaper content. Guess what happens when all of our newspapers papers go paywall. Go ahead just guess.

  12. Anonpolito says:

    If the Journal Sentinel becomes a pay for news website, all those anonymous comments won’t be anonymous anymore.

  13. Randy in Richmond says:

    Maybe it’s habit, maybe it’s age, maybe it’s me but I enjoy reading the “paper”. I relish curling up in an easychair and reading a book. I don’t curl up to read a Kindle or a computer. I really don’t care what others do but I like turning pages–not clicking a mouse or pushing prompts to read.

    Maybe it was getting up at 4:30 am for 3 1/2 years to deliver the paper on my bicycle in all kinds of weather–the paper was 35 cents a week then. I love going to my front door and getting the morning paper about the time the sun is coming up. But then, I am a creature of habit. I hope we always have a paper newspaper–but I liked milk in glass bottles , too.

  14. Stephen: We all start reading the paper at the library?

  15. I’m tattling on myself here, but the decision to nix the newspaper wasn’t exactly mutual in this household. I’m also getting a Kindle for Christmas. (uhem)

    I do admire the generation who delivered papers. It’s part of the work ethic we seem to be missing. My dad used to tell the story of tri-folding one and being able to get to land over the house and on the back porch. (Thank you so much for bringing that story back to me, Randy.)

  16. “i have learned”…………that the sky is falling; that the world is flat; that the martians are coming; that that is that. c’mon folks. lets hold our journalists accountable for EVERYTHING they say. the source, the form of information and the verification it is the sworn truth. as for the subject matter it is not going to end the world (unless you have heard!!!!!!!!!!!). look for a political season full of lies and rumors to fill the minds of the vulnerable who do not have time to check it out.

  17. This is an interesting time for all press and media companies. Personally, I think a lot of people have an unreasonable expectation of free stuff on the internet.

    Reporters need to be paid. Servers take up bandwidth which cost money. Nobody… Nobody should expect or demand free content from a media company. Some can make it on ads alone, but that’s becoming more difficult.

    Now then, maybe the Journal thinks they offer enough unique Milwaukee only content that they can get away with it because people want news about Milwaukee that they can’t get from the AP or the NY Times. They might be right.

    I think if they do this, they will definitely need to double down on local content though, and make a compelling case for the need to subscribe for content that I can’t get elsewhere. Otherwise its not worth the money.

  18. The only papers who have been successful with paywalls are the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and New York Times. Not even the Wall Street Post has attempted a paywall. The WSJ and FT are business papers that cater to corporate audiences willing to pay for subscriptions. The NYT is the closest the US has to a “national” general newspaper (liberal bias notwithstanding). I don’t really see the people of southeast Wisconsin paying for access, and after next year’s recall votes are done, I really don’t see the MJS getting much national press.

    Rightly or wrongly, the newspapers set a trend 15 years ago (at the start of the web revolution) of giving away their content in hopes of getting advertising. It’s hard to change it now.

  19. The details of the paywall just hit their Web site. I remember paying less than the $2.35/week cost for a newspaper subscription delivered to my door every day, less than 10 years ago. Hope what’s left of the Journal’s decent metro reporting doesn’t go down the tubes along with their readership numbers.

  20. they must have been smoking k2-its a crazy idea

  21. If you turn off your cookies it is free to read

  22. I figured there was an easy work around. Thanks.

    So far I haven’t been interested in enough to hit the maximums yet. 😉