NZ columnists go to war over relevance

Wow. If you didn’t think relevance was going to be important to writers going forward, you should probably read this statement by a bunch of NZ Herald columnists whose columns just went behind a paywall:

Unannounced and without any reference to us, around September 21 the Herald introduced a pay-to-view section on its website which it called Premium Content.

All our columns were corralled in the section, inaccessible even to us unless we wanted to pay to see our own work.

All of a sudden we’d been dubbed premium writers but we felt like premium mushrooms – kept in the dark but not even fed any bullshit. We were told nothing.

It then gets even more interesting, as these writers seem to be inching towards a statement of the economic value of their “relevance” – they start to argue that if they’re not going to get traffic, audience and feedback, they want hard cash instead:

Unfortunately, may of us signed contacts allowing our columns to be used on the old, free website. We argue that the Herald has made a major material and unilateral change to our contracts by charging for website access but they deny this.

In one message to us they said, “your primary constituency remains with the print edition.”

Well, they may conveniently think so but our readers say different. How come our feedback has dried up since people had to pay to read us online? It does rather suggest we’ve got a very big online readership.

Apparently, we’re supposed to be happy with a pay rate dating from print-only days because, according to one argument they put to us, we get “intangibles” such as the exposure of a regular column in the Herald.

Well, you can’t buy bread with intangibles. And none of our contracts say that part of our reward for writing for the Herald is these unquantified intangibles.

I don’t know anything about the NZ Herald decision, which I’m sure was driven by thought-out business reasons. But this reaction is the clearest expression I’ve yet seen of how web-savvy journalists are beginning to value their direct, online audience. It used to just be about page views – writers would be interested in a number as an index of the relevance of their content. Now, for a growing number of writers, it’s about contact, feedback, interfacing, community. Very interesting.