“The numbers mask an uglier story. In the past half century, and especially in the past two decades, journalism itself—the way news is covered, reported, written, and edited—has changed, including in ways that have made possible the rise of fake news, and not only because of mergers and acquisitions, and corporate ownership, and job losses, and Google Search and Facebook and BuzzFeed,” Lepore says in the New Yorker article.
“There’s no shortage of amazing journalists at work, clear-eyed and courageous, broad-minded and brilliant, and no end of fascinating innovation in matters of form, especially in visual storytelling.
“But journalism, as a field, is as addled as an addict, gaunt, wasted, and twitchy, its pockets as empty as its nights are sleepless. It’s faster than it used to be, so fast. It’s also edgier, and needier, and angrier.”
But don’t sink too much into a pit of despair, The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade argues, because the trade is not completely dead yet.
“The optimists fall into two categories,” he writes. “The Micawbers who believe it will come right in the end, as if by magic; and the Googlers who have adopted the digital revolution’s mantra, innovate or die.”
Greenslade argues that a new breed of entrepreneur has emerged who believe that it’s possible to not only to persuade readers to pay for access to newspaper and magazine content but also persuade advertisers to pay a sensible amount for their ads by providing them with proof that the ads have been read and understood.
One of the entrepreneurs quoted in Greenslade’s article is Rowly Bourne, co-founder of a startup called Rezonence.
Bourne argues that publishers are making as little as 50p per reader per year from digital. As a response to this, many of them have erected paywalls which restricts access to journalistic material. Moreover, readers who do pay for access are irritated by the number of ads that intrude on their reading experience.
“I believe there is a better way,” Bourne says. “Instead of a paywall, we call it a freewall. It’s a simple cost-per-engagement mechanism in which readers are presented with a single advertisement. In order to read the full article, they are required to answer a relatively simple question below the ad. This proves to the advertiser that the readers have paid attention to their brand.”
According to his company’s own estimates, freewall access to a site by, say, 10 million users would produce more than £10 per reader. By contrast, it is doubtful if paywalls produce 60p per reader.
Another entrepreneur, Dominic Young, founder of a startup called Agate, believes that circulation revenue could provide the answer to journalism’s woes.. He has developed a method aimed at encouraging readers to make payments into an online wallet. They pre-pay an amount into the wallet, which gives them access to a range of outlets, and the price of each article is deducted by the publisher. Each site can charge as much or as little as it thinks appropriate. When the wallet is empty, the reader can top it up.
“Meanwhile, as every online Guardian reader knows,” concludes Greenslade, “the paper has enjoyed success by asking readers for voluntary contributions. More than 1 million people worldwide have made a donation over the past three years, with 500,000 of them paying on a regular basis.
“No one can be certain which of these funding models will work in the long term and, incidentally, they are not mutually exclusive. But they should give journalists hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel we’ve been walking down for the last 20 years or so.”
So it could just be that rumours of the death of the industry are exaggerated…
Alastair Tancred, Christians in Media Editor