America Must Eliminate Internet Paywalls After 45 Days – Tax Search Engines / News Aggregators

October 13, 2022

An open letter to Congressman Ben Cline (R-VA):

Dear Congressman Cline:

Could you please introduce a bill in the House of Representatives to require all United States-based internet publications such as The New York Times, the Roanoke Times, The Wall Street Journaletc to eliminate their paywalls after forty-five days?

Newspapers have been a de facto fourth branch of government in the United States since 1783. Today, Americans increasingly rely on newspapers, magazines, and more. online, much more than in print. However, online and print publications are absolutely necessary for all citizens to make an informed decision each time they vote in a local, state or federal election.

Most poor and middle-class Americans (excluding students, faculty, and staff) cannot afford the increasingly expensive monthly or annual paywalls to access 76% of all newspapers and magazines online (eg. Time) from 2019. Despite the current Biden recession, I strongly suspect that percentage today is well over 76% due to both Covid-19 and declining print ad revenue.

Paywalls, which currently exist in The New York Times, prevent access to all news articles, etc. with the exception of those relating to the Covid-19 pandemic; however, non-subscribers currently have access to ten articles per month. Roanoke time does not give any access to their press articles, etc. after only five seconds, except for those over four months when The Wall Street Journal only provides access to one or two introductory paragraphs.

Most US library budgets have increased since 2020 due to Covid-19, but many local public libraries are unwilling to pay for a digital subscription to a national newspaper such as The New York Times inside or outside the library itself. The ProQuest (“US Major Dalies”) searchable database, to which the Roanoke County Public Library currently subscribes, NOT give the most recent issue of its five national newspapers: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Chicago Grandstand and Los Angeles Times.

ProQuest, which is a multi-billion dollar global company based in Ann Arbor, Michigan and owned by Clarivate since December 2021, is very good at broad topic research and journal article titles. Search results are easy to quote, email and save. However, access to any of this information requires a library card, thus making it impossible for a reader without access to ProQuest outside of the Roanoke Valley Libraries, which includes Botetourt County, Roanoke County, City of Roanoke, and Salem, to read any text, documentation (URL), or hypertext produced by ProQuest. Therefore, it is a de facto paywall for any reader without access to ProQuest.

Unfortunately, the five national newspapers in ProQuest only show the text of an article, show no images or audio links, and it is difficult to access the most recent edition, regardless of the newspaper. However, when I performed both a “basic search” and an “advanced search” for an article obtained from my smartphone, which appeared in the title of the first page of the Los Angeles Times on October 9, 2022 titled “Forget California and Amsterdam: Thailand wants to be the new king of weed”, ProQuest replied: “There are no searches associated with your search. I tried four times to no avail and received the same response. This was also sadly true four days later when I did another search on October 13.

When I called ProQuest customer service on October 11 at (800) 521-0600 to find out the time between the first appearance of an item on the Los Angeles Times website, and when it appeared in ProQuest’s searchable database, their tech support told me it might take “Several weeks” for the article to be uploaded to the ProQuest server. Much to my disappointment, tech support also told me that not all articles in an online journal will appear in ProQuest’s database, which is entirely dependent on what the journal publisher sends them.

When I did another “basic search” and an “advanced search” for an article, which appeared in the The New York Times on October 10, 2022, titled “Crimean Bridge Explosion Jeopardizes Russian Supply Route,” ProQuest replied, “Your search for Crimea bridge explosion jeopardizes Russian supply route found 0 results.” I tried four times to no avail, but received the same response. This was also unfortunately the case when I did another search three days later on October 13th.

Let me say that ProQuest is not my favorite database for accessing the most recent issue of any of the five “US Major Dalies” from the Roanoke County Library. Relying on ProQuest to avoid expensive paywalls turned out to be a big disappointment

Unfortunately, for most poor and middle-class Americans, an online subscription to The New York Times for the cheapest “Basic Access”, an introductory rate of $4 per month is currently charged for the first year and $17 “every four weeks” thereafter. An online subscription to Roanoke time for the cheaper “Unlimited Digital + E-edition” currently charges an introductory rate of $1 for twenty-six weeks and $10.99 per month thereafter. An online subscription to The Wall Street Journal at the very least, “WSJ Digital” currently charges an introductory rate of $8 per month in the first year and $38.99 per month thereafter. I am not asking for free access, but for limited access after forty-five days.

This extremely chilling and absurd Wall Street Journal op-ed written by Seth Cropsey and published on April 27, 2022, which I attempted to read last week, is incredibly titled “The United States Should Show It Can Win a Nuclear War “, is a great example of setting a time limit on paywalls. To say that I am disinterested in reading the full content of his article beyond the grayed-out start of the second paragraph is really an understatement. Australian anti-nuclear activist Dr. Helen Caldicott MD would probably call Cropsey mentally unstable or a title crackpot himself because of the mutually assured destruction in any nuclear war between the United States and Russia.

Personally, I would like to read the order of Cropsey’s articles to determine his degree of mental instability or worse, but I strongly suspect that the title of the article is far more sensational than literal. However, if I were to quote his article using ProQuest, the reader, as mentioned earlier, would need a library card with Roanoke Valley Libraries while anyone living outside from this area could only read my documentation or citation if the reader had access to ProQuest.

In my opinion, I suspect that most public libraries in our 6e The congressional district currently stretching from Roanoke County to Shenandoah County along the West Virginia border is most likely doing a mediocre to mediocre job of making local, state, or national online newspapers freely available (subsidized by Taxes). These libraries primarily cater to local residents, especially elementary, middle and high school students. For example, the South Roanoke County Library on Merriman Road has only the print editions of three newspapers: The Roanoke Times, The Franklin News-Post and The Wall Street Journal.

Other Virginia newspapers are only available online through the Newsbank Virginia News Sources database, which offers extremely poor, scanty, and incomplete content, except for Roanoke time, New Virginia and Richmond Times-Dispatch. There may be other exceptions, but I don’t have time to access the other seventy-nine logs in this large database.

The Newsbank The Roanoke Times Collection at that same branch provides online access to Roanoke time, but it’s rather slow, time consuming, handicap averse (hands and arms) and cumbersome requiring constant zooming in, zooming out and repositioning of the screen when scrolling up or down unlike a digital subscription where I could access the newspaper site on a smartphone or laptop much faster and more efficiently. I suspect it could be a similar problem in much of our congressional district. In case you don’t believe me, please ask your congressional staff to research this issue.

If your constituents can read six-and-a-half-week-old newspaper articles, etc., on their smartphones or laptops, they could at least stay semi-informed, whether for personal reading or research. I don’t think a voter who only gets information from television or radio, especially radio, will be as well informed. The average length of a weeknight WDBJ 7 or other Roanoke television news shows at 6:00 a.m. is approximately less than two minutes. The CBS Evening News and other network news at 6:30 am are similar. These shows are simply often too superficial. You do not agree ?

My first question is directly related to the second, because online newspapers and other print publications need to make a profit to survive. Could you please introduce a bill requiring all search engines and news aggregators such as Google (Alphabet), Apple, Facebook (Meta), Yahoo, Breitbart and Drudge Report etc. pay a fair annual fee or fee for linking their websites to all online journal articles, etc. like what is currently being done in Australia?

All these companies, which make hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue per year like Google (Alphabet) and Facebook (Meta) are currently like journalistic parasites in the United States.

Sadly, I predict that within the next five years, Silicon Valley and other similar American companies will kill off their local “newspaper host.” These include newspapers such as Roanoke timefrom Harrisonburg daily news newspaper and that of Waynesboro New Virginia. I do not think that USA today, which is currently owned by Gannett, will be too interested in covering local or national news in our congressional district. You do not agree ?

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Robert L. Maronic
Roanoke, Virginia

Rosemary S. Bishop