The Herald introduces a paywall

I’ve previously blogged that I want to pay for NZ news but no-one would take my money. I’m glad to see the New Zealand Herald has finally introduced a paywall.

I think the paywall is a great development for the media in New Zealand — so much so that I bought a small number of NZME shares after the paywall plans were first announced. It has been delayed for many months, and according to the managing editor may even be 20 years too late.

It’s not at all clear that it’s going to work. As the Spinoff put it: “The NZ Herald is about to put up a paywall and the stakes are scarily high”. So hopefully the whole thing is a success and my money doesn’t go in flames like the rest of the media industry.

Details of the paywall

The premium Herald costs $5 a week or $199 per year, but is free for daily newspaper subscribers. There’s also $2.50 per week introductory offer.

For that price you get access to ‘premium’ content on the Herald website, which is marked by a yellow tag. Behind the paywall you’ll find long-form journalism, opinion pieces, most business news, and syndicated content from various international media including the New York Times, Bloomberg and the Financial Times.

Behind the paywall

I promptly subscribed to the paywall, which was easy seeing as I already had a Herald account, and enjoyed the ‘premium’ stuff on the website. On the first few days a good two-thirds or more of the website seemed to be premium content.

Being a subscriber also means you can sign up to premium newsletters which highlight good stuff to read, and thank you over and over again for being a premium subscriber. I now subscribe to the general premium newsletter, premium business, and non-premium business. These curated newsletters are a good way of picking up stuff you may have otherwise missed.

Is this a good idea?

You already know I think this is a good idea, but I think I’m not exactly representative of the general public. I already subscribe to the New York Times, as well as contribute to Newsroom, E-tangata, Public Address, Bill Bennett, etc through Press Patron. I have  access to the NBR and Newsroom Pro through work. I also follow heaps of NZ journalists on Twitter.

I have taken an active interest in seeing how people react to the idea of the paywall, and it hasn’t been pretty. I’ve seen many a punter violently react to the idea that they should pay for online news. It shouldn’t be a surprise, but people have a lot of ill-feeling towards the online news media, pointing out the trash that’s routinely on the front pages of both the Herald and Stuff to draw people in.

I do know the status quo for funding the news media in NZ doesn’t seem to be sustainable. Even though the media is still pumping out important, quality journalism, almost every outlet seems to be struggling against the fact that their advertising driven business model is going terribly.

So I’m hoping the Herald introducing a paywall is a first step towards recalibrating how people view the media in NZ. Good journalism costs heaps of money to produce, so it’s not tenable for it to be given away free online.

I do worry that the particular way the Herald has designed its paywall will further entrench divisions between the ‘why would I pay for this shit’ camp and the ‘good journalism is worth paying for’ camp, because the average person has no way of seeing what’s behind the paywall. For that reason I favour a ‘you can read 5 free articles a month’ model which allows you to see what you’re missing out on, but the Herald people must have some reason for pursuing their current strategy.

So good luck to the Herald team. There’s a lot riding on this experiment!

Briefly: a warning sign for the open web

Peter Bright at Ars Technica has written a good article on how Microsoft’s decision to adopt the chromium web engine in its Edge Browser is worrying news.

The decision means that Google has established effective dominance over web, sort of like Microsoft did around the time of Internet Explorer 6.0.

I wrote quite a while ago why Firefox plays an important part in keeping the web open, and this role seems both more important and trickier as time goes on.

Leaving Facebook

I’ve decided to deactivate my Facebook account. The straw that broke the camel’s back was this article in the New York Times which suggested Facebook isn’t taking its privacy problems seriously, and is in fact actively working to dig dirt on its opponents instead of changing its business model.

I want to see how difficult life is without it.

I’ve been feeling uncomfortable keeping my account for a while now, but whenever I thought about the stuff I use Facebook for it keep me there. For example, my book club is a Facebook group so I’ve had to ask them to text me whenever they organise a new meeting.

Even though I’ve deactivated my account I’m still deeply enmeshed in their ecosystem. I’m still on Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp, and I’m sure Facebook’s ad system is still following me around the web (despite my best efforts).

I’m glad I’ve done this and I hope I won’t be back.

Uber becomes (more) legal in NZ

The Land Transport Amendment Bill (No 2) passed its third and final reading in Parliament on 4 August. One of the changes it makes are to ‘small passenger’ service regulations (i.e. taxis). The new rules are expected to come into force on 1 October 2017.

Here are some different perspectives on the change. Continue reading “Uber becomes (more) legal in NZ”

The death of the (official) Ubuntu phone OS

You may recall I bought a Meizu Pro 5 Ubuntu Edition phone from China in June 2016. I wrote up a review here.

Unfortunately Canonical (the company which leads the Ubuntu project) announced they were ceasing development of the Ubuntu phone OS in April this year. (See also this Ars Technica article here.)

Mark Shuttlesworth, the Ubuntu founder, wrote in the announcement that he had high hopes for the Ubuntu mobile OS project, but it never took off: Continue reading “The death of the (official) Ubuntu phone OS”

Briefly: What’s the value of a free service?

At the New York Times, Patricia Cohen has written an interesting piece on how economic growth measures (e.g. Gross Domestic Product, or GDP) aren’t great at measuring some parts of the economy.

That’s because a country’s GDP doesn’t include goods or services which are ‘free’. For instance, a mother or father who doesn’t work and looks after their kid doesn’t add a dollar to GDP because they aren’t being paid — but they’re performing an immensely valuable service.

Another — increasingly important — GDP blackhole is free digital services:

The growing suspicion, however, is that in a digital world overflowing with free services like Facebook, Google and YouTube, price is an increasingly ill-suited proxy for value.

What is the worth of a free software update that protects against a nasty virus? Of the streaming service that enables you to watch shows on your computer instead of on a television? Of the hours and hours saved by looking up a fact on Wikipedia rather than having to go to a library? All have productive value but no price.

I’ve thought about this problem in relation to free/open source software too. The more people who are using open source software, the lower GDP goes, even if the user is happier than if they’d paid for propriety software.

A few simple tips to protect your privacy online

We all know we’re being tracked when we’re on the web, but what can we do about it?

Tip 1: install the Privacy Badger extension

Tracking protection is a must have. As I’ve written before:

Although I feel too guilty about using an ad blocker on the web, on the basis that it deprives websites of advertising revenue, I feel quite within my rights to use tracking protection. The message I’m sending to advertisers and websites is that “you can show me advertising, as long as it’s not creepy!”. Once you activate the feature it’s amazing how many ads are blocked.

I won’t get into it in this post, but there are many reasons why advertisers and others using creepy tracking technology to follow your every movement on the web is a really bad idea. If you want to know more, I suggest you have a look at Don Marti’s blog.

The Electronic Freedom Foundation makes this nifty extension called privacy badger for Firefox and Chrome. It sits in the background while you’re browsing and blocks dodgy domains from tracking you around the web.

It can sometimes break websites (things won’t finish loading), but if that ever happens you can easily turn off tracking protection temporarily (or you can switch browsers temporarily).

Tip 2: use DuckDuckGo search instead of Google search

Duck Duck Go is a privacy-centric search engine, which doesn’t track you around the web.

It works well, but not quite as well as Google. I recommend specifying your country in the settings which helps it work much better.

It has a few cool features like ‘bangs‘, which allows you to search other sites from DuckDuckGo. For instance, “!w Beyonce” (without the speech marks) would search Beyonce on Wikipedia, and “!gi cute cats” would search Google images for cute cats.

Tip 3: use Mozilla Firefox instead of Google Chrome

Firefox is my favourite browser (you can read more about why here.)

In short, Firefox is backed by a non-profit organisation which cares about your privacy, rather than a profit-driven company who has an interest in tracking you all around the web (I’m looking at you Google!).

Tip 4: turn off third-party cookies

This will stop every website you go to loading you up with a whole lot of useless cookies from every man and his dog.

In Firefox: open Preferences > Privacy > History. Change the setting from “Remember” to “Use custom settings for history”. Change accept third party cookies to “never”.

In Chrome: open Settings > Show advanced settings (at the bottom) > Privacy > Content settings > check the box which says “Block third-party cookies and site data”.