I was surprised to go to The Providence Journal website today and to see an announcement that ProJo had built a new website with a new url. (no longer projo.com but providencejournal.com) and a paywall:

The Providence Journal news organization is moving to the paid eEdition to protect the investment it makes every day in gathering and publishing Rhode Island news.

“Like other major newspapers across the country, we’ve come to the realization that giving away our content free is not a sound business plan,” said Howard G. Sutton, publisher, president and chief executive officer of The Providence Journal.

The new paywall takes effect in a month, but all my prior links to the ProJo already are dead because of the url. change.  There will continue to be access to “breaking news” and some other features.

I don’t track these things specifically, but I’m confident that in the past three years I have sent at least tens of thousands of readers over to the ProJo website, maybe even hundreds of thousands.  No more. Unlike The NY Times paywall, there doesn’t appear to be an exception for incoming links from other websites.  Unlike The Wall Street Journal paywall, there is not a large free amount of content to which others can link (there is some but not the meaningful content).  So ProJo effectively has cut itself off from the rest of the blogosphere.  I’ll miss ProJo.com.  But not so much that I’ll pay for the content, or send readers over to dead links. Strike One.

The ProJo is the only statewide paper and in many ways the paper of record, and it does very good work covering Rhode Island politics.  But it’s not as indispensable as it once was.  As commenters to the announcement pointed out, there is a growing body of alternatives, including GoLocal.prov, Patch, local town newspapers with websites, and the various television stations (WPRI,  ABC6, TurnTo10) which have websites.  The free content at the old ProJo.com pretty much smothered these upstarts.  No more.  ProJo has opened up the online market.  Strike Two.

Cutting itself off from the world also diminishes ProJo’s influence.  The reason ProJo is so dominant and influential is that everyone in Rhode Island can read it for free online, as can people out of state.  This open structure makes ProJo the RI website of record not only for Rhode Islanders, but for the world.  ProJo is doing everything it can to cut off this record, including putting the archives behind the paywall:

The eEdition will be searchable, including back issues from Jan. 17, 2011, and forward. That service is free for subscribers. Older archives, back to 1983, will be searchable for free, though a fee must be paid to download full stories.

ProJo goes from being a paper with an influence and reputation which far exceeds its reach to a paper which far under-reaches.  Strike Three.

If ProJo had a cost structure problem it should have fixed that problem instead of trying to cut itself off from the world.  ProJo doesn’t seem to understand that its greatest asset is its readers, not its staff.  The readers can live without ProJo, but ProJo cannot live without its readers.