This Financial Times piece has some good details on The Wall Street Journal's plan to start charging for content: It looks like the Journal is going to start using micropayments to charge for content. But I also think the FT might have buried the lede. Seems like this is also big news:
[Dow Jones editor in chief Robert] Thomson said the Journal saw an opportunity in its US metropolitan rivals' weakness, adding: "We're going to move in on each of the big cities."
This strikes me as more important than the stuff about micropayments, in part because the notion of using micropayments to charge for content is not new. Walter Issacson wrote a big story for Time Magazine about it. Michael Kinsley wrote an op-ed for the New York Times attacking Isaacson. Numerous blog posts followed. But the fact that the Journal wants to get into the local news business is different: It's not a theory for how to make preexisting content profitable; it's a theory for building new content. (And must reflect the fact that the Journal has some confidence in its business model.)
More importantly, concerns about the future of media are more acute with local news than, say, financial news (which is still profitable) or national news (which is still oversaturated). There are dozens of reporters covering Congress and dozens of reporters covering the White House. Even if many more DC bureaus close, there will continue to be reporters covering the White House and Congress, and there will continue to be more news sources to choose from than could ever be consumed.
But that doesn't seem to be the case with Boston or Cleveland or any number of large cities in which large newspapers are wobbling on the edge of the abyss. If the Boston Globe closes, it will impact the amount of information -- information that is "good for democracy," as they say -- that local consumers have available to them. I would be less worried if a paper like the Journal were there to pick up the slack.