“The day I run into a Huffington Post reporter at a Baltimore Zoning Board hearing is the day that I will be confident that we’ve actually reached some sort of equilibrium … the next 10 or 15 years in this country are going to be a halcyon era for state and local political corruption. It’s gonna be one of the great times to be a corrupt politician. I really envy them. I really do.”
Those are the words of David Simon, former crime journalist for The Baltimore Sun and creator of ‘The Wire’, in a 2009 US Senate hearing on the future of journalism. The past nine years haven’t done much to prove him wrong.
The entire industry of news media is at a crossroads, stumbling precariously across the tightrope that is the transition from traditional newspapers to online multimedia. These difficulties are not talent related. Much of the technological changes have resulted in new, innovative content being covered in ways that really connect with audiences.
The problem lies in money and advertising.
Data collected by NewsBrands Ireland shows that advertising revenues, combining both print and digital ads, from its 16 member publications has dropped from €178 million in 2011 to €154 million in 2016, a decrease of almost 14%.
Online advertising simply produces less revenue than traditional print ads, leading to a gaping hole in the finances of newspapers as their physical circulation continues to plummet.
The core issue is that by building their online presence around social media sharing, publications have created a culture of free news, and this is a culture that the general public has graciously accepted.
Turning the ship around now will prove difficult because convincing people to pay for something they’ve gotten for free before is, by its nature, difficult. However, several media outlets are making the attempt. The future of news is in subscriptions.
There’s a range of approaches being tried in the industry; The Irish Times has four packages ranging from €3 a week to €13.75 a week depending on the services required, whereas The Guardian in the UK provides its content for free while also offering bonus articles, events and gifts for those who support the paper with €5 a month.
The subscription model is vital for the future of quality journalism, and perhaps the only way it can survive.
Advertising rates aren’t the only issue with digital platforms, they also encourage the prioritising of clicks. An outlet struggling for finances will emphasise stories that get the most clicks regardless of their journalistic value. If this means covering a Snapchat video of a puppy falling over rather than investigating the corruption of power tearing its way through local government, then so be it.
Subscriptions offer a reliable income for papers to plan a future. Subscriptions also give papers the means to employ journalists who cover the important stories that will never be sexy.
Chances are you already pay for your television service through Netflix and your music through Spotify, take a moment to consider supporting a news service.
The integrity of the future will thank you.
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