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Newspapers And Journalism In A Disrupted Market


It has been interesting to watch the increasingly desperate attempts by newspaper publishers to save their industry. Different methods have been employed - from asking readers to disable ad blockers through pay-walls and even pleading for donations.

Thing is, nobody seems to have it worked out. Not if they want to report actual news rather than chase viral page views with garbage articles like the Daily Mail or Buzz Feed.

The only model that seemed to briefly work for publishers was ad-supported, where they were able to convert large numbers of page views into an income stream.

As we all know, the quality and intrusion of advertising was not kept in check, giving rise to the ad-blocking Godzilla, which has stomped all over Fleet Street's online city.

The inability to derive revenue has destroyed the hoped for migration of the newspaper empires to the web. News sources are everywhere and in the main they don't have the weight of a legacy organisation to support.

As a result the past ability of newspapers to bundle together a mix of reporting, advertising and a political agenda is being wiped away. 

Without the checks and balances which kept newspaper reporting at least in the general vicinity of the truth, newer sites have been able to claim, report or fabricate whatever stories support their own agenda. Fake news, alternative facts? The root cause is right here.

So how does the traditional press reorganise to face a change in the market that has already bypassed them? Has the window of opportunity closed?

The subscription model may work for some of the larger names, but in general news reporting has lost its value. The internet not only killed printed news by its constant stream of up to date reporting but also killed the value of news itself. An almost infinite supply does that to products.

So the real value in the old publishing corporations is what they do outside of the news: commentary, long-form articles, investigative journalism, sociopolitical engineering. These key skills developed in the old media days haven't been picked up by new media companies in their rush for click throughs and page views.

This is where a subscription model could work. In the same way that the music industry came together to enable Spotify, the big newspaper publishers need to come together and create an offering which leverages their combined strengths.

Take the capability of the big names in news publishing around the world and centralise their non-news content into a subscription service which is priced below the point of resistance ($10 per month for example), distribute that revenue on a 'per play' basis and you have a model which is sustainable.

Because, whilst the potential market for a subscription to The Times or Washington Post is low, the global market isn't if it includes a subscription for The Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Bild, La Republica, and so on.

Whether the very diverse and often warring factions that form the newspaper empires can come together to do this remains very much in question. If they can't then a fate worse than the Daily Mail awaits them.

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