“To be critical thinkers, they need to be able to compare diverse sources of information,” he said. “We are going to see an information gap that will impact students in a bad way.”

Steadily declining advertising revenue and dwindling subscriptions to their print versions have prompted newspaper executives to weigh charging a fee for access to web-based content that has been free of charge before. A recent study by the American Press Institute found that 58 percent of the responding newspapers are considering charging fees for online articles. Of that group, 22 percent expect to introduce fees before the end of the year.

The study’s findings drew upon 118 interviews of newspaper executives in the U.S. and Canada.

Major media corporations such as NewsCorp.–owned by mogul Rupert Murdoch–are not alone in embracing fees for online content (the NewsCorp.-owned Wall Street Journal reportedly has 1 million paid subscribers to its web site). The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette introduced a web site in September that includes commentary on entertainment news, sports, and politics. The paper charges $3.99 for monthly access to the site, or $36 for a one-year subscription.

And the Associated Press is considering charging online news providers a premium for early access to its news stories. Currently, AP articles appear on all sites–including go-to sites such as Google and Yahoo!–simultaneously. The new model would allow web sites to post AP stories if they pay a fee to beat the competition.

Four of the largest technology companies–Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., IBM Corp., and Oracle Corp.–have expressed interest in developing an online payment system for publishers.