I keep going back to a piece Jason Whittaker wrote in March. He says the hope that ad revenue will support online news has been dashed and it’s time for consumers to pay. But it’s become a quality problem:
“Big media in this country baulks at charging for its online content because, they assert, readers will go elsewhere. It exposes the clear belief in management: that their content isn’t worth paying for. A quick thumb through any of the daily tabloids around the country and it’s hard to argue. It’s an insult to readers, an insult to hard-working journalists, and will ultimately spell the death of mass media around the world.”
He suggests an iTunes-style account for news, which works across all news sites. It sounds good, but Clay Shirky says it won’t work because how many news stories do you want to go back and read again and again? Which is fine if you’re just talking about a direct substitution of news for music. Now, I know Shirky is an expert in this area, but what if we’re just not being creative enough in the way we’re looking at it? What if wire copy was free – because everyone uses it – but the rest you paid for? It would have to be good, of course, not just the crap we serve up now and call news.
Shirky says it won’t work because you can’t establish a monopoly on news. True, but you can establish a monopoly on your journalists. In fact, news organisations already do with the contracts they make you sign. So why not advertise your journalists so readers know where to find them? We already do it with radio hosts, so why not good journalists?