By Ginnia Cheng
Last week, Hurricane Sandy swept through the U.S., forcing a nation already divided by a tense presidential race to come to a complete standstill. The worst storm to ever hit the east coast has caused damage estimated to be in “the tens of billions of dollars, making the storm one of the five most expensive disasters in U.S. history”.
Today, when significant events rapidly unfold, the very first place you’d turn to for information is the web. Maybe you’d log onto Twitter to see what the local reports on the ground are, or check Facebook to see if friends and family have been affected – but, for dependable reports, especially surrounding potentially life-saving information, you’d no doubt seek out the most credible news sources.
Interestingly, as Hurricane Sandy hit the US, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal temporarily suspended their paywalls in order to give users full access to information they might need to deal with the affects of the storm.
Although some would consider this a noble gesture, questions have been asked regarding the motivation of such a move. For example, this piece on GigaOM looks at the tension between news sources as a vehicle for public information and as commercial entities.
This isn’t the first time that the NYT has lifted its controversial paywall. It was briefly removed when Hurricane Irene hit the U.S. last year. However, there was much debate over how it remained closed following the death of Bin Laden.
While it may be the case that a move to drop paywalls could be for commercial, rather than emotional reasons, as both an avid consumer of information online and a professional involved in the digital media world, it’s interesting to consider the conflict between the ‘vision and the reality of the newspaper business’ at a time when the internet has given us unlimited access to so much free information.