Newser pays

It’s 3pm, it’s raining (thank goodness – whatever happened to a proper winter?), I’ve got a cup of tea and a list of things to do, so instead I’m thinking about the future of online news.

Anna sent me Clay Shirky’s piece on how we won’t know what the solution is until after we’re saved. Which makes sense, but I think news organisations are looking for The One Big Solution That Will Save Us All.

One thing he writes gives me hope:

“Print media does much of society’s heavy journalistic lifting, from flooding the zone – covering every angle of a huge story – to the daily grind of attending the City Council meeting, just in case. This coverage creates benefits even for people who aren’t newspaper readers, because the work of print journalists is used by everyone from politicians to district attorneys to talk radio hosts to bloggers.”

Hell, if it wasn’t for newspapers I’d probably have to get a cat and start blogging about belly button lint.

I don’t believe newspapers are dead. Too many people – myself included – enjoy reading the newspaper. That may change with the digital natives who are more comfortable reading on screen than the rest of us, but that’s still a long way off. I hope.

But you can’t simply charge for access to a news website. You’ll cut off the traffic sent to you by search engines, as well as the casual visitor. Traffic figures will go down, it will become harder to sell ads and you’ll end up in a worse position than when you started.

Besides, most of us have better things to spend our money on than what you find on news sites. The online newsroom has been focussed on “clicks” rather than quality. To get clicks you throw up a bikini gallery or a story about celebrities/crime/sex, so the whole site becomes a source of cheap thrills for bored office workers. I’ll flick through a trashy mag in the supermarket queue but I’ll never buy one.

But, if charging for online news is the path you want to go down (which seems to be what’s going to happen), then it has to be better. News organisations need to be hiring journos, not getting rid of them (hello Fairfax and News Ltd). They need to be funding investigative journalism, and promoting these journos so that when it comes to crunch time, readers will (fingers crossed) pay for online news. If online news fails, then people will just use the tv and radio for free news and the internet will be a news-free zone. Quite a different situation to what we have now: 24-hours news with constant updates. And bikini galleries.

How many cups of tea is too many?

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