Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Behind the Paywall

139 Responses

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  • BenWilson,

    See, that's just madness. News is not a scarce commodity, but good reporting is, and the problem of how to pay for it is a very real one.

    I don't think good reporting is anywhere near as scarce as it was. There is just more bad reporting so it makes the average look bad. It's a saturating market in every way.

    It's rough that it's getting harder to profit from quality. But only for the journalists and newspapers. People wanting news, including quality news, have never had it so good.

    It's tough, but that's capitalism - journalism is a massively oversupplied product, so it's hard to make a good profit. You have to be really, really good, not just good. The only way to reverse this would be to cut/control supply. Which I can't see happening. It's too big.

    It's analogous to getting paid for being able to write at all. In the ancient world it was one of the most lucrative trades. Now, it's a basic requirement. No one is going to pay you heaps just to read and write, they expect serious skills on top of that.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10654 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Who's doing the investigative reporting while everybody is busy doing the commentary?

    Why can't we subscribe to the investigative journalist directly?

    Do they have to deliver the whole piece at once or can that kind of discovery be a conversation with the reader as well. Perhaps with reader input.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    Also I'd like to drag'n drop away sections that I'd never read, like sports and racing and normally business, and swoosh them away with a satisfying flick.

    There was an ad on television a few years ago in which "Dave"? got his 15 cent paper delivered with only the sports section and few other articles, and it cost him 15 cents.

    The reality of the business is that they could conceivably do something like that, offer limited papers which appeal to target audiences, but the economics of offering a full paper and thus more space to their advertisers are much more compelling.

    We must ask Craig, he would be the obvious person to know if this already exists . . .

    Many are available. I'm not sure about the iPad app.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    It's rough that it's getting harder to profit from quality. But only for the journalists and newspapers. People wanting news, including quality news, have never had it so good.

    If you're after quantity, yes. I look at Italy and I think the quality has gone down a lot. They say the same of the US, where good newspapers are closing down left right and centre. I haven't been in New Zealand for long enough to judge long-term trends, but I find the quality of the reporting and especially of the commentary here to be an embarassment. But that perhaps is just me. The issue however is whether the model that we have is sustainable, and opinions clearly are divided, but the reality speaks of shrinking newsrooms. Will that also affect the quality of the product? Hard to say. But I find it hard to be optimistic.

    Why can't we subscribe to the investigative journalist directly?

    I'd still rather subscribe to a newsroom, myself. I want somebody who gets to have robust editorial meetings. But for sure one could think of different models.

    That flattr link was very interesting.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Leigh Kennaway,

    Gotta say, the phrase "Hard News: Behind the Paywall" was momentarily rather worrying.

    I'm sure Mr Brown has a mortgage and renovations to pay for just like the rest of us. In these tough times, all income streams need to be maximised.

    sunny Pt Chevalier • Since Mar 2008 • 40 posts Report Reply

  • Joanna,

    Why can't we subscribe to the investigative journalist directly?

    Let's bring back old fashioned patronage! We could all be the new Medicis or whatever the investigative equivalent is.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 746 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    That's kind of depressing. When it was good I was happy to pay for it. Similarly when I'm in Italy I buy La Repubblica, which is an excellent newspaper and is not online. Just demanding that things be online seems a little extreme.

    And similarly, a lot of people buy the Guardian Weekly - they're willing to pay for a solid product. I like the corporeality and improved user interface of Le Monde in paper.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Bevan Shortridge,

    George wrote:

    There was an ad on television a few years ago in which "Dave"? got his 15 cent paper delivered with only the sports section and few other articles, and it cost him 15 cents.

    Daily Keno adverts - "You call the shots". Another ad concerned Avocados IIRC.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 122 posts Report Reply

  • Sam F,

    Also I'd like to drag'n drop away sections that I'd never read, like sports and racing and normally business, and swoosh them away with a satisfying flick.

    Which company was it that had that TV ad campaign 10 or so years ago, with the customised newspaper that showed up to suit everyone's desires? No sports section, or six of them, whatever you wish for...

    ETA: George and others already thought of this - I really should have read all the way down - but at least glad that someone else remembered that one.

    Let's bring back old fashioned patronage! We could all be the new Medicis or whatever the investigative equivalent is.

    Scoop's Micropatron system is as close as we have right now, I suppose? And it's even got the early modern/renaissance era imagery going on in the ads, too...

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1609 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    Let's bring back old fashioned patronage! We could all be the new Medicis or whatever the investigative equivalent is.

    The Australian Financial Review is run at the largesse of the owners, and as a result has the best reporting and analysis in Australia. It also has a high earning subscriber base, and puts itself behind the paywall.

    I think the key question these media owners need to ask is - who are my customers, and why will they pay me for this content? Instead, they're often going - this is good content, and it costs money: our users should pay.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    The Australian Financial Review is run at the largesse of the owners, and as a result has the best reporting and analysis in Australia. It also has a high earning subscriber base, and puts itself behind the paywall.

    Actually, it's run at our largesse. Over the years, Fairfax has creamed off a lot of money from its New Zealand assets, which helps support its loss-making flagship.

    Until recently, The Guardian was also underwritten by the Scott Trust's consumer magazine stable, but that's not doing well right now.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22839 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome,

    I read the paper twice a week, when I go over to visit my Mother and thus get to see the Sunday Star-Times and the Monday New Zealand Herald. Everytime I flip through the pages al I can think of is "What a waste of paper" and not just because the reporting is rubbish to horrible in nature; I really do think print papers (and magazines) are an appalling waste of our precious resources (I'm glad academia has, by and large, embraced ejournals; I haven't had to look at a paper copy of an article for years now).

    Would I be willing to pay a subscription to those papers as online, paperless entities? No; they are frankly quite awful, but I do pay subscriptions to other things online.

    For example, I like "Red vs. Blue" and thus pay the meagre US$10 a year to be a sponsor (and all you get is access to the videos a few hours before anyone else) and I subscribe to the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (which gives me access to pretty PDFs for the entries).

    In both cases I'm not getting additional content for my subscriptions; I'm getting an additional service; early access to the videos and nicely formatted text. I think that's one way to go; restricting the news to people who pay won't work, because you can get the news elsewhere. Giving subscribers additional content if they subscribe (Raw interview footage, epub versions of the articles or sections you are interested in, et al) works, I think; people, like David Mitchell says, value content and are willing to pay for it. They're not going to pay for content they can get elsewhere but they might be willing to pay for special access to content that they would otherwise not get or special access to content.

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 441 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    I don't think there'll ever be a shortage of actual, factual information. At worst, people will precis and rewrite the output of paid or ad financed news sources (much like the news on student radio). Remember, there's no copyright in facts.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    And similarly, a lot of people buy the Guardian Weekly - they're willing to pay for a solid product.

    In this day and age I don't understand why so many of them get it posted to them weekly though.

    Surely financially, keeping up with a newspaper that's overseas is a great niche market where people would be willing to pay for instant access without sending rolls of newsprint around the world. That's where a paywall might make sense.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    I don't think there'll ever be a shortage of actual, factual information.

    So you reckon that in the case of Watergate for instance the facts would have just outed themselves, by virtue of being there, without journalists having to be involved?

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • SteveH,

    I think that's one way to go; restricting the news to people who pay won't work, because you can get the news elsewhere. Giving subscribers additional content if they subscribe (Raw interview footage, epub versions of the articles or sections you are interested in, et al) works, I think

    I agree. I doubt I'd ever subscribe to stuff.co.nz or nzherald.co.nz in their present form. But if subscribers got (e.g.) decent resolution photos with the articles instead of the postage stamp-size images they currently serve up I might be tempted.

    Since Sep 2009 • 444 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I haven't been in New Zealand for long enough to judge long-term trends, but I find the quality of the reporting and especially of the commentary here to be an embarassment. But that perhaps is just me.

    It's not just you. I'm changing my tune a little here to say I agree that the quality of investigative reporting has dropped. That sort of thing needs a large organization behind it, to buy the stories.

    But I don't think it's the distribution model at fault. I think it was a trend well before the internet became a major source of news. It's about the cost of that, and the return from it. Not enough people are paying over and above what they'd pay to hear Deborah Hill Cone for that kind of journalism to make it financially viable.

    I think the problem is actually consumer driven. The internet is not at fault for driving the quality down, it's just the natural place for the alternative to arise. But it wasn't going to resurrect public interest in investigative journalism.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10654 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    I didn't mean to suggest that it was the Internet's fault either. Or that the old model couldn't use reforming. It may be however that the Web has accelerated some of the trends that were already in place. As a medium it certainly doesn't run counter a neoliberal approach.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    It may be however that the Web has accelerated some of the trends that were already in place.

    Well it drove down the cost of delivering shite. That's sort of good. If we have to eat shite it should at least be cheap. Are you suggested it may have led to people developing a taste for shite? Or a taste for cheap, which implies shite a lot. Could be.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10654 posts Report Reply

  • Chukkkker,

    Does anybody know how the journalists for The Times have reacted to this, and whether or not they were consulted?
    I'd imagine they'd be more than slightly miffed.

    Since Nov 2007 • 17 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    the quality of investigative reporting has dropped. That sort of thing needs a large organization behind it, to buy the stories.

    Yes and no. Yes it helps to have the resources of a large organization. But it very much depends on the organization. Some large organizations create environments where there is less freedom. Could Watergate have been uncovered if the journalists had been required to produce a story per day in addition to investigating?

    And where do freelance journalists fit into the mix? Would they be better served by some clever direct to consumer model that paid them directly rather than selling to an aggregator like a newspaper?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle,

    I find the quality of the reporting and especially of the commentary here to be an embarassment. But that perhaps is just me.

    It's not just you. The commentary particularly is awful, awful, awful. I know everyone says 'I could do that better!' but dude, I so could! (Particularly those columns which are of the 'meandering and wittering' ilk. Those two words are my middle name.)

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    And where do freelance journalists fit into the mix?

    That was why I said a large organization to buy the stories was needed. Yes they could sell direct, if they were specialists in self-promotion and distribution, rather than writing and investigating.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10654 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    I know everyone says 'I could do that better!' but dude, I so could

    So would the people who are actual doing it. Whilst I am not particularly fond of his politics, I have absolutely no doubt that Ralston for instance could be an excellent commentator; it's just that so little is expected of him.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Patrick Xavier,

    I like that (a) ad-supported content as an alternative to a paywall is being undone by, for example, Readability and Instapaper (which I use to read PA, but not PAS because then it defaults back to PA), (b) the Listener doesn't use a paywall, but just a wall, so you can choose between access and immediacy (and learn something about instant and deferred gratification besides), and (c) The Atlantic recognised immediacy is only a currency for news.

    Since Nov 2006 • 49 posts Report Reply

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