Media columnist Robert Feder, shown in 2002, when he was with the Sun-Times, now writes for the Tribune.
  • Jim Frost / Sun-Times Media
  • Media columnist Robert Feder, shown in 2002, when he was with the Sun-Times, now writes for the Tribune.

On Wednesday, media blogger Robert Feder made an important announcement. Chicago’s foremost itinerant reporter—he’s bunked with the Sun-Times, Chicago Public Media, Time Out Chicago, and the Tribune—Feder announced that as of next Tuesday, his “will become part of the exclusive, premium digitalPLUS tier of”

Meaning it won’t be free. His readers can get it for a “special 52-week deal for $99.”

“If you’re already a digitalPLUS subscriber,” Feder explained, “you’ll continue to have unlimited access to my blog and its archives. If not, you’ll be asked to register by providing your email address when you come to my site. You’ll still be able to access five stories a month for free. After the first five each month, you’ll be offered the opportunity to subscribe.”

These terms sounded OK to me. I’ve subscribed to both major Chicago dailies and the New York Times since the 1980s. Back then what I got for my money was the reassuring thump of each paper landing on our front porch at about 6:30 every morning, plus whatever could be found in their pages in the time I had to thumb through them at breakfast. (To be precise, I read the Sun-Times on the train.)

The thump is softer now, but the breakfast table remains my ideal place to read a newspaper. (That and the CTA—where I’m usually the only passenger in the car holding one.) The bang for my subscription buck has changed and changed some more over the years—as the papers launched websites and posted editorial content in shifting configurations of free and otherwise. But the basic terms are the same: I pay my money and read the news.

When Feder announced that he was eloping with DigitalPLUS the first thing I did was find out where I stood with DigitalPLUS, which I’d never paid much attention to. It turned out I’m good—because I already subscribed to the daily paper, I’ll have unlimited access to Feder despite the pay wall. And as an old-school subscriber, I’m jake with paying for the access. It’s always felt weird paying nothing to read a writer who deserves to be making a living.

But many of Feder’s loyal readers did not react this way. I checked public reaction on Feder’s Facebook page, and for every “congrats” and “good luck” and “good job,” there was an “I love your column, but I’m out!” and a “Will miss you” and a “Congrats Robert. Sadly enough this is where it ends for me.”

“What I see on Facebook I’ll read,” said one member of this vanishing tribe who was slightly blunter than most, “but no way will I ever pay for a local newspaper on line.”

I spotted a couple of writers I know who had serious doubts. “You provide a valuable service and deserve to be rewarded,” Don McLeese told Feder on Facebook, “but the business model that dramatically shrinks your readership isn’t the right way.” And Andrew Patner imagined what it would be like having to pay a hundred bucks each to read every columnist he wanted to follow—each of them behind a different pay wall.

Patner can’t afford that. Who can? Has progress outsmarted itself? It’s given us so many years of reading everybody everywhere for a song that it’s made itself unaffordable.

Feder should consider writing a column about himself as a perfect example of what’s nutty about journalism: he’s way too good to be giving it away but even his biggest fans think it’s unthinkable to pay for it. If he can work his way through this conundrum and come out in clover, he’ll be remembered as a giant.