News organizations need to be guided by economics, not emotion or nostalgia, as they seek a business model for the future.
The reason is that the laws of economics are ruthless and the sole arbiter of the marketplace. They don't bend to what you want or feel entitled to.
The huge fallacy I hear all the time behind arguments for requiring readers to pay for news goes like this: Our work is IMPORTANT and EXPENSIVE to produce. Society needs it, and we incur huge expenses to provide it, so consumers should pay us.
As a journalist, I completely agree that good journalism is vital to a healthy society. But that says nothing about whether it should be paid for by the consumer. Things even more essential to our survival -- air and sunlight -- we pay nothing for. Why? Because they are abundant and freely distributed.
General news and commentary online is the same way. Yes, it's important and valuable, but as long as there is abundant, elastic supply, competition will drive the consumer price to zero.
Economics also disregards the second point of the fallacy -- that professional journalism is expensive to produce, we have to pay huge expenses for reporters, editors and other staff and readers should pay to support that.
Consumers couldn't care less how much it costs to produce a product, be it news, clothing or cars. They don't inspect your production facility and balance sheets to determine whether the price is fair.
Price is determined by the UNIQUE value your product provides TO THE CONSUMER. Both parts of the equation matter: how useful/valuable is it to the consumer, and could the same value be obtained elsewhere for less? Regarding news online, the second question is key.
"News" -- broadly defined as information and happenings of interest to a person -- can be obtained from almost infinite sources online. There are many traditional news outlets, of course, but also blogs and social networks.
Anytime you set out to answer the question -- What is the price of a thing? -- your answer had better be based on supply and demand economics. The answer may not be what you want to hear. It may be massively disruptive to your current business model and cost structure. But you're better off building on the truth than self-serving deceptions.