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'Free' news

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A watchful Blog reader several (10) days ago provided a link to Democrat-Gazette Publisher Walter Hussman's opinion piece on how the D-G has managed to avoid the circulation declines that have beset other newspapers around the country. Partly, he believes, it is because he has not let his website cannibalize his print edition by offering everything for free (except up in Northwest Arkansas, of course).  The Wall Street Journal (whose web is available only to subscribers, with the exception of a limited selection of articles) reprinted Hussman's piece today. Brummett's blog offers a little commentary on the typically idiosyncratic Arkansas experience, which immodesty requires us to link. The D-G and WSJ are currently swimming against the prevailing tide of free web content, though the very successful New York Times site has added subscription-only content.

Hussman doesn't mention one fact that currently favors print in Arkansas -- our behind-the-curve utilization of the wired universe. Last figures I saw showed Arkansas among the laggards in the percentage of the population with regular web access. It will be interesting to see if you can still defy trends here when, metaphorically speaking, the Web finally reaches Ben Hur and the last unwired household in Arkansas turns on the lightbulb to global communication. (History buffs will know the Ben Hur reference is to a famous photograph of electricity reaching the last unwired part of Arkansas.) Changes are still afoot. Craig's List, in time, will become a more important presence in Arkansas. There will be more web outlets for local information. It will become harder to protect print franchises. Those are my famous last words for the day. Other futurists' comments are welcome.

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