In my post this AM on communicating in a new education paradigm, I laid out the belief that the launch of Inside Higher Education was a real game changer for education, particularly higher education, reporting. Why? It captured news from campuses across the nation. It spotlighted local higher ed coverage. It delivered them to a wide range of email inboxes across the nation. And it did so for free.
This was not intended as a slam on the Chronicle of Higher Education. I have college friends who have written or currently write for the Chronicle. It is one of the top print publications in the industry, one that I grew up reading (and you wondered how exciting the life of a son of a college president is). Its unique web visitors and print readership should be envied by most publications. I’ll applaud the Chronicle for being one of the first newspapers to have a daily web presence (they cite 1995. For the record, I helped get The Cavalier Daily, the University of Virginia’s independent student newspaper, online five days a week in 1994). And I’ll credit them for their daily email news briefing, Academe Today, for delivering the top news the Chronicle’s primary readership look for.
What catches me, though, are the restrictions on its website. We’ve gotten spoiled in today’s 24-7 information environment. We want it all, and we don’t want to pay for it. When I visit a website, I expect to get all of the information that I can access. I’m prepared to offer up my email address and vitals for access, as that is the price of doing business. Yes, the Chronicle offers free access to some information on its site, namely its blog postings. But the simple fact remains that the average reader cannot access the majority of headlines posted on the Chronicle website without a paid subscription. When i look at the top stories on the home page (today, for instance, I know foreign graduates are losing job offers because of the stimulus package, but I don’t know how or why), I look so longingly, knowing that a click will only get me the lede paragraph, and the rest of the story is denied me without a Chronicle account and a paid subscription (or an online pass). Even after all these years, the Chronicle is a bit of an online tease, at least for those who aren’t willing to pay to play.
I don’t fault the Chronicle for its business model. It has found a market that is willing to pay for its content, clearly recognizing that the information available is worth the price. In fact, there are colleges and universities that are willing to buy the licenses to provide full access to content to each and every person on their campuses. And I’m particularly fond of the Chronicle’s old print ads showing those college presidents clipping and dog earing articles from a publication that is seen as a “bible” in their industry. It is a high-quality pub with a loyal readership.
But it is still catching up to the times. If I go to the homepage of the New York Times or Washington Post or Wall Street Journal — industry leaders all — I expect to gain access to the latest articles promoted on their homepage. Those that have tried to charge for content have had to reverse course. No, I don’t expect full access to the archives and may even be willing to pay for content if I believe it to be valuable. But I want access to more than the first paragraph of the latest news. And I’m not the only one.
No, Inside Higher Ed didn’t change higher education journalism. But it did change the way we viewed higher education journalism (as I noted this morning). It opened such information up to the masses (or at least those interested in such topics). It raised the profile of higher education issues beyond those in academe. And, in the end, it has made the Chronicle a better publication, as it has broadened its reach, expanded its options, and improved its quality. It’s a win-win, particularly for those who are paid subscribers to the Chronicle.