News was already pretty close to free long before the Internet came along. It was free on TV, free on the radio, and effectively free in newspapers when you consider all the valuable stuff that came packaged with it for 25 or 50 cents, from comics to crosswords to classifieds to supermarket ads. And unlike, say, a song--which was free on the radio but worth spending money on to be able to play again and again whenever you wanted to hear it--a day-old newspaper was usually less than worthless.
It's an argument I've seen being made more and more recently, and one I believe holds true: Newspapers were never making their payrolls on issue sales. They were significantly undercharging in order to up the eyeballs on every page, so they could then turn around the and show advertisers huge numbers.
The problem today isn't that people don't want to pay for news--they barely payed for it to begin with. The problem now is one of advertising. Advertisers don't see the need to pay massive amounts anymore, when full-page ads and premium placements are a thing of the past. But even more than that, Newspapers and other media companies have ceded control of online advertising to Google, getting pennies where they used to get dollars. That is where the true crisis lies.
PS. Back from a break. Good to see you again