Are we all watching the world’s biggest game of bluff poker?

The newspaper world is changing and struggling to find its way online in a fashion that will see the leaders of the conglomerates that own them maintain their wealth and power. Zachary M. Seward on the Nieman Journalism Lab blog thinks that The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are heavy into the quietest newspaper war in the country.

As papers like the Globe suffer, the Journal and the Times are engaged in a pitched but unusually quiet battle for readers outside the New York metro area who might be persuaded to abandon their local dailies. In a small development on Friday, the Times announced a deal that will extend newsstand sales and home delivery of the newspaper to Nashville, Tenn. That becomes the 26th North American city where the Times is printed, and I’ve mapped them above.

Both the Times and the Journal are working to make themselves more appealing as first-read newspapers for national readers in largely affluent markets.

Meanwhile Ryan Tate at Gawker: Valleywag lets us know that both Rupert Murdoch and Steven Brill are promising to have all their newspapers charging for content by next year.

Today in the Washington Post, Howard Kurtz writes that there’s an “emerging consensus” that Murdoch and Brill are leading the way to the future, in which people pay to read news on the Web. The only trouble: Whichever publishers are first to charge for content will be first to see their Web traffic drop — like 90% — if they wall off everything to just subscribers. Especially if their competitors don’t also erect their own paywalls. It could be catastrophic for smaller brands who wall off their content while everyone stays free.

Beating the drum of paywalls Murdoch is quoted in a Financial Times post saying

“We intend to charge for all our news websites,” Mr Murdoch said.

“If we’re successful, we’ll be followed by all media,” he added, predicting “significant revenues” from charging for differentiated news online.

Here’s the thing though, as Tate noted in his post the first company to actually cross that line and erect paywalls across all their online news outlets is going to take a heavy hit because people at this point will not fork over their hard earned money for something they can get elsewhere for free. It’s not like Murdoch and Brill can get together over dinner and decide on a day and time where both their online news empires start charging money. Well they could but if they got caught the penalties because of antitrust laws would make it a painful exercise – not to mention potentially very expensive.

So here we have two the biggest players in the newspaper industry threatening to start making people pay for the news; but who’s going to do it first and take the hit they have to know will come as a result?

Then can that person be assured that the other(s) will do the same or will they bask in the increase of traffic that will come at the expense of their competitor?

Who is going to blink first?