Brill's Back in Media, This Time to Save Newspapers

Partners With Former WSJ Publisher Crovitz in Venture to Help Dailies Charge for Content Online

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NEW YORK ( -- Steven Brill, a vocal proponent of the idea that newspapers should be charging for stories online, has launched a company to attempt to make that a reality.

Steven Brill
Steven Brill
The start-up, called Journalism Online, will build and license a payment system that will allow newspapers to charge for content to supplement online ad revenue.

Mr. Brill, a media entrepreneur who founded Court TV and the magazines American Lawyer and Brill's Content, was most recently CEO of Verified Identity Pass, which developed a voluntary ID system to speed airport security clearances. He stepped down in March to focus on the "business challenges facing quality journalism."

Joining Mr. Brill in the venture are former Wall Street Journal Publisher Gordon Crovitz and former cable executive and media investor Leo Hindery. Two of the nation's most prominent lawyers, David Boies and Theodore B. Olsen, a former solicitor general of the U.S., are listed as advisers.

The Wall Street Journal is one of few newspapers that successfully charges for content online, and had 1.08 million paying online subscribers as of February. "My experience with The Wall Street Journal taught me that people will pay a reasonable price to access exclusive, differentiated and essential journalism, whether delivered in print or online," Mr. Crovitz said in a statement.

In talks with publishers
The business has no clients and is in talks with newspapers and magazines on how the payment system will work. The company will offer both subscriptions for single publications and an annual or monthly fee for all the papers and magazines participating in the system.

In addition to offering software and services to publishers, the start-up retained Mr. Boies' firm, Boies Schiller & Flexner, to negotiate licensing agreements with search engines and portals on newspapers' behalf.

The system, which will be ready by the fall, will also report metrics to help newspapers and magazines find a balance between charging for content while maintaining enough eyeballs to keep a robust advertising business.

"We believe Americans know that advertising alone can't support quality journalism -- and the truth is that it never has," Mr. Brill said.

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