News firm launches pay-to-read online service

One of the country's largest newspaper firms started limiting access to online content for several of its titles today in a groundbreaking trial.

Johnston Press is charging readers of three its publications £5 for three months of complete web access, while another three titles will be directing readers back to the actual newspaper after a summary of each story.

The company - which owns more than 300 regional papers across the UK including The Scotsman and the Yorkshire Post - is battling falling advertising revenues and wants to assess the impact of charging for content.

It is the first regional publisher in the UK to trial asking readers to pay for its online news.

The papers that will start charging are the Northumberland Gazette and Whitby Gazette in England, and the Southern Reporter in Scotland.

The Carrick Gazette, Worksop Guardian and Ripley and Heanor News will be directing readers back to the newspaper after a summary of each story.

Johnston Press' The Scotsman operates a similar system for readers wishing to view "premium content" on its website.

With the publishing industry struggling amid the economic downturn, media organisations are exploring ways of earning more from their content.

Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation - publisher of titles including The Sun and The Times - has indicated it will start some form of online charging next year.

And The Financial Times charges a subscription for full access to its web content.

Northumberland Gazette editor Paul Larkin said: "It is exciting for us as journalists to be at the forefront of this venture. All eyes in the media world are on us!"

Johnston Press' latest half year results showed total advertising revenues were down by 32.7 per cent compared to the previous year.