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Campus Newspapers Consider Charging for Content

A new effort will help college newspapers add paywalls to their Web sites, enabling editors to collect donations or charge subscription fees to frequent readers of online editions.

The digital-subscription company Press+ and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will cover the start-up fees for adding a meter system to the first 50 campus papers that sign up.

So far, most of the newspapers interested in adopting the system do not plan to charge on-campus users, and many plan to simply ask for donations from off-campus readers rather than making payment mandatory.

The project follows recent high-profile moves by national and local newspapers, such as The New York Times and The Dallas Morning News, to require readers to pay for access to certain online content.

Boston University’s Daily Free Press introduced a system for donations a few weeks ago, and it has already brought in some additional revenue, said Annie Ropeik, chair of the paper’s board of directors.

“We were skittish at first of the idea of an actual paywall that would lock you out,” Ms. Ropeik said. “But once the donation idea came up, it seemed like a no-lose situation for us.”

Ms. Ropeik, a senior at the university, said the paper is struggling to cover costs and it’s hoped that the donation system will help, even if it doesn’t net big revenue.

A few college newspapers are experimenting with charging for content. Oklahoma State University’s Daily O’Collegian was the first campus newspaper to charge for online content. Under its model, any non-student outside a 25-mile radius of the college must pay $10 a year for access to more than three articles a month.

Jeff Jarvis, a blogger and professor of new media at the City University of New York, said he can’t fathom why a campus newspaper would want to charge readers, even to only those off campus. Most college newspapers, he said, accrue little cost because their labor is voluntary and the printed paper, if there is one, is generally paid for through student dues.

But to Gordon Crovitz, the co-founder of Press+, the idea is not only about financial gain, but also offers a way to teach student journalists about new business models.

“The student journalists running college newspapers who hope to have a career in journalism are very aware that the traditional media model is broken,” he said in a statement. “This generation needs to find new revenue streams, including new ways to collect revenues from the readers who get the most value from the access.”

For Boston University’s Daily Free Press, though, Ms. Ropeik said her paper’s new policy is all about the money. The donation page on the Web site, she said, is a way to reach out to current donors in a more obvious way, and perhaps get others to support the paper as well.

Mr. Jarvis said college newspapers should instead model their ideas on Facebook in trying to find new revenue streams.

“Rather than experimenting with paywalls and trying to learn from that,” Mr. Jarvis said, “I think colleges would be much better off asking, ‘What would Mark Zuckerberg do?’ ”

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