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Archive for January 2010

Like cable TV, news media should charge for access

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The New York Times is once again experimenting with the idea of charging for access to its content. The move is long overdue and other newspapers and news providers should be charging ahead with this idea or variations on it.

How many other products on the web (and news and information are products) are given away for free?

After the earthquake in Haiti, sites like Twitter and YouTube provided early glimpses of the devastation, but it was news media companies sending reporters and that provided the news and information that so many have seen during the past two weeks. Just like transporting water, food and medical supplies to Haiti costs hard cash, so does moving reporters and their equipment to the area.

I’d argue that the visual coverage provided by news sites on the web, on broadcast TV and in newspapers and news magazines revealed in stunning detail the horrific tragedy that had befallen the most desperately poor country in the western hemisphere. That coverage also prompted people from around the world to donate money to the relief effort, for a Hollywood A-lister to organize a benefit concert and for doctors and nurses and missionaries to fly there to do what they could to help.

Reporting on the bottleneck that kept supplies from getting out to those who needed it likely helped speed the relief process along, though challenges still remain and Haiti has dropped from the top of the TV newscasts.

Journalism proved its value this time as it has again and again.

Most news media companies blundered badly and continue to do so as they struggle with the death spiral of their traditional business models. They were late to recognize the impact of the web and have yet to figure out how to make money. It is the news business, after all, and businesses have to make money to survive.

Google, Yahoo and other portals have benefitted from using news from various sites. They  that they drive argue traffic to the news media’s own sites and news media owners are getting a benefit. True, by aggregating news stories, these portals are helping disseminate news, but by doing so, they are also getting a benefit. Viewers go to aggregator sites precisely because they can get an overview of the news of the day and quickly link to relevant stories. But despite all the costs of these aggregators paying their employees to develop and use the algorithms, they want to scoop up for free the content that media companies pay their staffs to produce.

I wonder what will happen as more newspapers fail or continue cutting back on staff to the point where press releases become the primary content on their pages and sites. Google, Yahoo and the others are assisting in the suicide of these companies, but they will pay a price, as well.

I caught the end of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on NBC the other night. The commentators made some remarks about the Ice Dancing winners. I missed their performances. At the end of the broadcast was a link to IceNetwork.com where I could see the dances. The next day, I visited the site only to discover I had to pay to see something that had been freely available the day before. They get it.

News media companies and the viewers that access their content through whatever means should pay for it–just as they’d pay for a copy of a newspaper or news magazine, or to view that skating competition, order something from QVC or download a Kindle book or an iTune.

One good idea that’s been making the rounds of some J-School educators and laid-off journalists is based on the Cable TV model. Newspapers should start charging for their online content and viewers, aggregators, TV and radio news need to pay up.

A half century ago, who would have considered paying $60, $80 and more than $100 a month for what, up until then, had been free TV. Now most households pay for hundreds of channels, mostly filled with old reruns of TV shows and movies, sports, shopping, music and news, and they regularly watch only a small number of them.

News media companies should take a closer look at this model.

As my friend and former colleague Holly Shreve Gilbert at Oakland U noted last year: “The idea I’ve had rattling around has been that online news services will look something like cable TV. A tiered offering…For $100 a year you get access to 10 national news sites, 10 state, 10 local…for $50 you get ….5 of each…or something along that scale. I haven’t worked out the details but it seems like there might be something there. ..”

Her husband, Garry, now JRN director at OU, a good friend, former exec editor at The Oakland Press and visiting prof at MSU, chimed in with: “Over-the-air TV is free, but people are willing to pay for more channels and the high quality digital signal delivered via cable. Internet Service Providers, which charge people for access to the Web, are in a position to raise their rates and share a portion of that revenue with the content providers that get the most views.”

These are some of the ideas that may get folks thinking and doing. There is no time left to solve this problem.

This idea originated with John Coots, a smart, smart guy who is a former newspaper editor and current publisher. He said in an email: “I had supper last night with some newspaper guys up in New Hampshire… the big hoo-rah reaction at the table came when one of the guys suggested that all the newspapers in the country simultaneously convert to paid web access only on Bastille Day. You know, $40 or $50 a year, or the papers’ website just won’t open past the front page! It’s sort of a general strike of the Mother Ship of All News Providers. The first to panic and subscribe would be local television and radio station affiliates whose staffs wouldn’t have a clue how to find out anything without reading the paper first. I kinda like it!”

I like it, too.


Written by jrnjbb

January 26, 2010 at 8:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Back Story

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Welcome to the Journalism Talisman site. The blog will comment on news, news media, best and worst practices of journalism and developments in the media business.

To introduce myself, I am Jane Briggs-Bunting a journalist, educator and media attorney. I am the former director of the School of Journalism at Michigan State University and a professor of journalism at MSU. I was a professor and director of journalism at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan previously. Before joining the academy, I worked full-time as a Detroit Free Press staff writer. During my tenure at Oakland, I was a non-staff correspondent for People and LIFE magazines. I’ve also written freelance articles for other publications in a journalistic career that’s spanned almost 40 years.

In the early 1990s, I recognized the potential of the web and Internet to change how journalism was being produced. Under my director, Oakland students took one of the first courses offered on a college campus on reporting with the internet.

I am seriously troubled with the ongoing problems facing news media companies and their reluctance to make the hard decisions that are necessary to ensure that journalism continues to perform its fundamental watchdog role in a democracy. History has demonstrated repeatedly the important role of a free press. It is a lesson that should not be ignored.

Written by jrnjbb

January 21, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized