Every week, Canadian Atheist Weekly Update provides a collection of links to stories, editorials, and other items of interest to Canadian atheists. It’s been running almost without a break for almost two years now, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
However, in the two years it’s been running, there have been an increasing number of major news websites erecting paywalls. In plain English, they have been blocking their content unless you pay a fee.
Until now, WU’s policy has been to refuse any links behind “hard” paywalls – links that are completely inaccessible without paying – but to allow links to “soft” paywall sites. “Soft” paywall sites allow you access to a certain amount of articles before making you pay for more.
It wasn’t a great solution, but it was a solution.
Unfortunately, things have gotten progressively worse. When it was just US sites like The New York Times, it wasn’t that big a deal; in most cases, better coverage of anything Canada-related was available. However, more and more of Canada’s major news sources are putting up paywalls. Just this month, the Toronto Star has become the latest.
I don’t disagree with paying for journalism. In fact, I enthusiastically agree that quality journalism should be funded, and is very much worth paying for.
The problem here is simply an issue of logistics. Canadian Atheist cannot afford to pay for dozens and dozens of different news outlets to cover the vast geological and topical range of issues we cover. We cannot afford to pay for general newspapers in Charlottetown, Edmonton, Fredericton, Halifax, Québec City, Regina, St. John’s, Toronto, Victoria, and Winnipeg… and that’s just to cover the provincial capitals, not even touching the territories, other major population centres like Calgary, Hamilton, or Saskatoon, or even Ottawa! And that’s without considering specialized sources for things like LGBTQ issues, First Nations issues, and science, all of which are frequently entangled with religion.
I do not object in principle to featuring paywalled stories on WU and leaving it up to readers to decide if they want to pay for the content. It even makes good economic sense for the sources – depending on the story, CA can direct anywhere from hundreds to thousands of readers to their site. But if I can’t read what a link points to, I can’t recommend it.
So starting this week, Weekly Update will no longer be featuring or accepting any links that are blocked by paywalls, including “soft” paywalls. We will still feature links with “nag” messages – that is, pop-ups or temporary screens asking for your support – so long as the full content is available without too much hassle.
I am not happy about this for several reasons. First, it means that we won’t be able to feature some stories on major Canadian news sites that may have had massive impact to Canadian atheists over the past week (but we may have a way around that! we’re working on it!). More importantly for me, though, is that it will mean less diversity in the sources we feature on WU. I have always made it a point to consciously select stories from a diverse range of sources, to avoid ideological bubbles and echo chambers. I will continue in that vein, even though the options are becoming increasingly limited.
For those who contribute links: If you have a wicked story to share, please try to find a link to a source that does not block its content in any way. There are plenty of sources like that (not least being the CBC).
(Note that all this applies to Weekly Update only. The “This Week in Canadian ___” articles from In-Sight Publishing are separate, and have their own policies.)
And please do support journalists and media sources who don’t hide their stories behind paywalls, to encourage them to continue to publish paywall-free.