Besides all of the questions we should be asking ourselves before we put up a pay wall, it’s worth a look to examine the underlying reason for it. This morning, I stumbled across a comment on a blog that perfectly underscores the very questions I have been asking about the push for pay walls.

As UK blogger Adam Westbrook cheered on Rupert Murdoch’s decision to enact pay walls on his sites, commenter Dani Bora said what’s largely been missing from the debate (unless you read here, which, obviously, you do):

…we’ll need to gauge what are the media orgs’ motives to charge for their content: is it to actually make journalism better — more journos, more pro imagery, new delivery options, etc…— or is it only to prop up ailing print operations and shrinking profits?

That’s the real question, isn’t it? Judging from the people who are always banging the drum for pay walls, I think I know the answer. I don’t believe the proposals are made to prop up print, per se, but rather to prop up an old ideal that all journalism has monetary value to somebody because, darnit, it does to us.

We don’t want to have to consider that maybe our online content just isn’t worth as much as we think it should be to our readers. I know from experience that the last people you want to talk to about charging for online content are the reporters and editors who put in the work to get it there. To many, it isn’t even a matter of ‘if” when it comes to charging for online content – it’s “when”.

I suggest a quick read over this excellent post from the Knight Digital Media Center about the sort of questions a news org should consider before charging for content. While all of the questions are important, two of the five are potentially quite difficult for a journalist to stomach: “Do I have content worth paying for?” and “What are my readers willing to pay for my work?”

Only after you get out and talk to the readers in your market can you really determine if a pay model is the right answer – or if you’re doing it for the right reasons in the first place.