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ROBERT L. MARONIC: America Needs to Eliminate Internet Paywalls After 45 Days – Tax Search Engines / News Aggregators

October 13, 2022

Dear Congressman Cline:

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

Newspapers have been a de facto fourth branch of government in the U.S. since 1783. Today Americans increasingly rely upon online newspapers, magazines, etc. much more than printed ones. However, both online and printed publications are absolutely necessary for all citizens to make an informed decision whenever they vote in a local, state or federal election.

Most middle class and poor Americans (excluding college students, faculty and staff) cannot afford the increasingly expensive monthly or yearly paywalls in order to access 76% of all online newspapers and magazines (e.g. Time) as of 2019. Despite the current Biden recession, I highly suspect that this percentage is today much higher than 76% because of both Covid-19 and declining print advertising revenue.

The paywalls, which presently exist in The New York Times, prevent access to all news articles, etc. except for those concerning the Covid-19 pandemic; however, nonsubscribers currently have access to ten articles per month. The Roanoke Times gives no access to their news articles, etc. after a mere five seconds except for ones older than four months while The Wall Street Journal only allows access to one or two introductory paragraphs.

Most U.S. library budgets have increased since 2020 because of 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 either inside or outside of the library itself. The ProQuest (“U.S. Major Dalies”) searchable database, to which the Roanoke County Public Library currently subscribes, will NOT give the most current issue of its five national newspapers: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times.

ProQuest, which is a worldwide multibillion dollar company based in Ann Arbor, Michigan and owned by Clarivate since December 2021, is very good for research on a broad topic and newspaper article titles. The search results are easy to cite, email and save. However, access to any of this information requires a library card, thereby making it impossible for a reader without access to ProQuest outside of the Roanoke Valley Libraries, which consists of Botetourt County, Roanoke County, Roanoke City and Salem, to read any text, documentation (URLs) or hypertext produced by ProQuest. Consequently, this is a de facto paywall for any reader without access to ProQuest.

Unfortunately, ProQuest’s five national newspapers only show an article’s text, fail to show any pictures or audio links, and it is difficult to access the most current edition regardless of newspaper. However, when I did both a “basic search” and “advanced search” for an article obtained from my smartphone, which appeared in the front-page headline of the Los Angeles Times on October 9, 2022 entitled, “Forget California and Amsterdam: Thailand Wants to Become the New King of Weed,” ProQuest replied, “There are no related searches for your search.” I tried four times to no avail, and received the same response. This was also unfortunately true four days later when I did another search on October 13.

When I telephoned ProQuest’s customer service on October 11 at (800) 521-0600 in order to find out the time lag between when an article first appears on the Los Angeles Times website, and when it would appear in ProQuest’s searchable database, their technical support told me that it could take “several weeks” for the article to upload to the ProQuest server. To my great disappointment tech support also told me that not all articles from an online newspaper will appear in ProQuest’s database, which depends entirely upon what the newspaper’s publisher sends them.

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

Let me just say that ProQuest is not my favorite database to access the most current issue of any of the Roanoke County Library’s five “U.S. Major Dalies.” Relying upon ProQuest in order to avoid expensive paywalls turned out to be a big disappointment

Unfortunately, for most middle class and poor Americans an online subscription to The New York Times for the least expensive “Basic Access” currently charges an introductory rate of $4 per month for the first year and $17 “every four weeks” thereafter. An online subscription to The Roanoke Times for the least expensive “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  for the least expensive “WSJ Digital” currently charges an introductory rate of $8 per month for 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 scary and nonsensical Wall Street Journal editorial written by Seth Cropsey, and published April 27, 2022, which I attempted to read last week is unbelievably entitled “The U.S. Should Show It Can Win a Nuclear War,” is a prime example of putting a time limitation on paywalls. To say that I am disinterested in reading the full content of his article beyond the grayed-out beginning of the second paragraph is truly an understatement.

Australian anti-nuclear activist, Dr. Helen Caldicott M.D., would probably call Cropsey either mentally unstable or a crackpot from the title itself because of mutually assured destruction in any nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia.

I personally would like to read Cropsey’s article order to ascertain his degree of mental instability or worse, but I strongly suspect that the article’s title is much more sensational than literal. However, if I were to cite his article using ProQuest, the reader as previously mentioned would need to have a library card with the Roanoke Valley Libraries while anyone living outside of this area would only be able to read my documentation or citation if the reader had access to ProQuest.

In my opinion, I suspect that most public libraries in our 6th Congressional district extending presently from Roanoke County to Shenandoah County along the West Virginia border most likely do a poor to mediocre job in making local, state or national online newspapers available for free (tax subsidized). These libraries mainly cater to local residents, especially elementary, middle and high school students. For example, the South Roanoke County Library located on Merriman Road only has the print editions of three newspapers: The Roanoke Times, The Franklin News-Post and The Wall Street Journal.

Other Virginia newspapers are available only online through the Newsbank Virginia News Sources database, which offers extremely poor, skimpy and incomplete content except for The Roanoke Times, The News Virginian and Richmond Times-Dispatch. I have read nineteen other newspapers in this database, but I do not have time to access the other sixty newspapers in this rather large database. However, the paucity of the links in these nineteen newspapers, which I did read, was abysmal.

The Newsbank The Roanoke Times Collection at this same branch offers online access to The Roanoke Times, but it is rather slow, time-consuming, handicapped-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’s website on a much quicker and more efficient smartphone or laptop. I suspect that this might be a similar problem in much of our Congressional district. In case you do not believe me, please have your Congressional staff research this problem.

If your voters can read newspaper articles, etc., which are six and a half weeks old, on either their smartphones or laptops, at least they could remain semi-informed whether for either reading or personal research. I do not think that a voter obtaining one’s news solely from television or radio, especially radio, is going to be as well informed. The average length of a weekday evening WDBJ 7 or other televised news broadcasts in Roanoke at 6:00 is approximately less than two minutes. The CBS Evening News and other network news at 6:30 are similar. These broadcasts are simply often too superficial. Do you not agree?

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

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

Unfortunately, I predict that in the next five years Silicon Valley and other similar U.S. companies are going to kill off their local “newspaper host.” These might include such newspapers as The Roanoke Times, Harrisonburg’s Daily News-Record and Waynesboro’s The News Virginian. I do not think that USA Today, which is currently owned by Gannett, will be too interested in covering local or state news in our Congressional district. Do you not agree?

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Robert L. Maronic
Roanoke, VA

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