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Newspapers and revenue streams

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The last sentence of my previous post may seem strange to some. Comparing, or rather contrasting, news reporting and take-out fast food may seem strange, but I think the analogy serves, in that it is very much like comparing apples to oranges. I opened that post by saying that “It used to be that newspapers made money in order to produce news. … These days most newspapers produce news to make money.” Fast food franchises are operated with the express goal of making as much money as possible while spending as little money as possible. The result is fast food.

When operating news outlets in a similar fashion, the result is the news reporting equivalent of fast food; clickbait articles, listicles, and the reporting of press releases as if they were objective fact. I do understand that newspapers need to pay their employees, taxes, and overhead costs, just like any other business, and I realise that this is a challenging prospect in the age of online news. Ideally speaking, a news service should be run with the goal in mind to make enough money to break even. With the advent of megacorporations such as Newscorp, run as for-profit publicly traded companies, that is hardly realistic, however.

I think that the erection of paywalls that block all articles from reading by non-subscribers is the worst possible example of a paywall, and I am filled with glee every time I hear of news organisations who face problems stemming from such tactics, and I will go to great lengths to avoid linking to such news outlets. A variant of this, favoured by Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten TK is to allow everyone to read a set number of articles for free each week (Aftenposten, I believe, has this number set to seven), with all subsequent articles blocked if you are not a paying subscribe. This is certainly better than the version blocking all articles, but significantly less than ideal (even if the current version is easy enough to circumvent, using different browsers and clearing browser cache).

A third variant is to split articles into two groups; short and long form. Short form articles report the news, but offer little in the way of in-depth analysis and commentary. Long form articles, on the other hand, are heavy on analysis and commentary. While I don’t think this variant is ideal either (my ideal version of a paywall is not having one), I certainly think it is far closer to the outlet serving their purpose than any of the other two.

I also think that ad design should be part of the conversation here; far too often I see ads that are loud, obnoxious, and that actually stop me from reading what’s on the page, like the popups that have been for the most part relegated to the archives of internet history. Lastly, I believe that newsrooms should continue to engage with their readership on social media; by taking the conversation about current events to those platforms, it is democratised significantly, which in turn improves the news.

Clearly, I don’t have all the answers, but I do think that news reporters should be held to a high standard of accessibility, significantly higher than what they achieve

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