Thoughts over beers on paid content

3 11 2009

A friend and I were chewing over a favorite topic over pizza and beers the other night: the decline of quality and quantity of journalism at a time we need it most.

Acknowledging the hopelessness of the print model, we went on to complain about the deficiencies of online news consumption. The problem, of course, is that creditable, fair, balanced and researched news content online is almost entirely provided by print publications whose underlying business model is as dead as the trees on which they print. When we want to research coverage of a certain issue or event, the online aggregators, such as Google News, blend in blogs and other opinion outlets with the legitimate journalism, which damages the credibility of all online news. (Of course, there are a few journalistic blogs, but separating them out and branding their credibility is the issue.)

We agreed we would happily pay for reliable, quality journalism, but that it continued to amaze us that no one seemed to have come up with the viable, comprehensive solution. I said I liked the micropayment model, in which I set up an account with an outlet I have deemed to be reliable, and then each time I click a headline or blurb to read the full version of the article, my account gets charged a nominal amount, say a dime.

My friend noted that the problem with that is that many people would be averse to the open-ended cost structure and would hesitate to set up accounts when they didn’t know how much they would end up spending. He preferred the model of the Wall Street Journal, where you sign up for a year or so and get unlimited access.

One key difficulty with each is that we like to read multiple news outlets, and we will never have a finite universe of news producers we like and trust. We never know, for example, when an article from the Toledo Blade or the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal may provide just what we’re looking for.

Then it hit us. Why not have a central organization, international in nature, that becomes both the certifier of journalistic integrity and the accountant for news providers worldwide? This body could be an offshoot of an existing journalism organization or a federation of many around the world. News gatherers and producers could join this organization by certifying, and winning  the organization’s recognition, of their adherence to basic journalistic principles — independent research, concern for fairness and balance, accuracy and accountability, etc.

News organizations belonging to this body could carry the logo on their own sites. The organization itself could aggregate the content of its members on its site.

A news consumer could sign up once with a credit card and choose either a monthly fee, say $30 for unlimited use, or a pay-per-click fee — again, about 10 cents. The technology would have to be such that once logged in to the umbrella organization, the consumer would not  have to log in to individual news outlets or enter payment information for each click.

The hope would be that by first establishing credibility, consumers and advertisers would follow. It seemed like a great idea at the time. I’m sure there are a few wrinkles in this concept. Care to weigh in?

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One response

4 11 2009
matthew_frederick

Readers of the Wall Street Journal find the content monetarily valuable, so they are willing to pay for it. The content supposedly will help readers make money. (And it does … I remember reading a case from the 80’s where a WSJ “Heard on the Street” columnist went to prison for divulging the contents of his column to certain parties the night before.)

Regular news? I’m not as confident that people would be willing to pay. I do believe that there are a lot of people out there who desire to read good journalism, but I think such people are willing and able to discern the wheat from the chaff on their own. At any rate, it would be difficult even to convince most of these people to pay out of some kind of convenience, because I don’t think even most of these people put a monetary value on good regular news journalism.

Perhaps I am cynical.

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