“The function of the press in society is to inform, but its role in society is to make money.” – A. J. Liebling
Howard Saltz is Knight Innovator-in-Residence in the journalism faculty at Florida International University in Miami. The professor and journalism practitioner thinks it is a serious mistake for newspapers to drop their paywalls in response to COVID-19, or for any other reason.
Here’s a section of his argument, published by Poynter:
The newspaper industry seems to think that public service can’t coexist with revenue. That’s a mistake — at a time when the beleaguered industry can’t afford to make one. We do provide an important public service, but why can’t a public service business be, well, in business?
Food is essential, but grocery stores aren’t giving it away.
Clothing? Not free. Not even at Goodwill.
Police are being paid during the crisis. So are garbage collectors. There are no freebies at the pharmacy.
These are all essential to the community at a time of crisis, yet no one expects these goods and services to be free. What are newspapers afraid of? Our products have value. People pay for things of value.
Note how the comparison items above are all physical goods and human services. Food, clothing, and medicine are necessities. Accurate and timely information, like garbage collection and police protection, is nice to have.
It’s Not News Until It Helps You Make Sense of Things
The Oracle of Omaha recently divested all his money from newspapers and said that all but a few are “toast.”
The Oracle is a big fan of newspapers, but his assessment is brutal and all business. He said newspapers have not learned to do business online. He is correct.
Back to Saltz for a sec. Saltz states in his essay that if you can afford an internet connection, you can also afford a digital subscription to a newspaper. He argues that a digital newspaper subscription is not expensive.
Is he right? Are digital newspaper subs affordable? How much room do you have in your budget for them? How many can you afford?
If you opt for The Dallas Morning News‘ best digital deal at $1.55 per week (over two years) it equals $80.60 per year, or $161.20 total for the two years.
The Migration from Ad Supported to Reader Supported…A Long Hard Slog
When I click from social to a mainstream media story that presents a paywall, it is annoying, and bad user experience. Every time. Which means it is also a ding on the media brand. Fair or unfair doesn’t come into the typical news consumer’s equation. That a newspaper dared to stop them on their click quest—that does matter. A lot.
There are better ways for media companies to behave. Every consumer brand, newspapers included, must move people to buy. Forcing them to buy doesn’t work unless the product has NO REAL comparison on the market. And like it or not, newspapers can be easily gotten around, simply by opening Facebook or Twitter. Therefore, a newspaper has to be all that it can be—ethical and working for the public good, while also selling “memberships,” events, their I.P. and other items of interest to a multitude of audiences.
The membership model is a reader-supporter subscriber model, but there is no paywall. One of the best newspapers in the world operates by this principle. The Guardian asks for donations and gets them because readers love the product. One reason readers love the product is due to the pub’s independence. “Our journalism is free from commercial bias and not influenced by billionaire owners, politicians or shareholders. No one edits our editor. No one steers our opinion.”
Please Pay Writers, Here and Now
What about Adpulp.com? Is our industry coverage worthy of reader support? #rhetorical
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