Is independent accreditation the future of newspapers?

I was reading this article in the Economist, and having just read How Companies Win, it started me thinking about the way Newspapers are “changing”.

The article talks about how newspapers are cutting costs on journalism, attracting younger readers by focusing stories on “entertainment, lifestyle and [more]“. All of these changes are ignoring the obvious shift in their readers’ habits. People are finding new ways to consume information, read news and keep informed. Newspapers fail to realise that readers are switching medium, not looking for different content.

Over the past few years, most newspapers have gone online as a result of this realisation; some have decided to charge readers. Did they really think that through when they started the new business model?

Let us think about that for a second. The Internet is a free resource, easily shareable and free from barriers. Now, imagine that someone wants to charge you to read something that you can, most-likely, find on another website for free. Will you go ahead and pay for the privilege of reading the article? Or, will you spend a few seconds searching for the free version?

I think newspapers are approaching the changes in readers’ behaviour in the wrong way. They are asking “what can we change to keep readers on board?”, instead of asking the readers what issues they have with the current way they are consuming information.

Journalism is an industry that is shifting to independence, away from agencies. This is because any person can create news and, when it is compelling, get that news shared on the Internet. There is a huge boom in citizen journalism, worldwide. Often times, this news is more accurate, and immediate, than news by mainstream newspapers – because it comes from the front-line; journalists in the middle of a war zone or a global disaster can create news and spread it themselves without the need of newspapers.

The effect of this on newspapers is astounding – journalists are being laid off, readership is reducing, and profits are tumbling. So, my message to newspapers is “talk to your readers”. Find out how they consume news, and what issues they need resolved.

My biggest concern, as a reader of news and information, is credibility and validity.

When I read something, how do I know that what I am reading is true and credible?

Tomorrow, I propose a new role for newspapers and two alternative business models. Subscribe now, so as not to miss out.

12 Comments to “Is independent accreditation the future of newspapers?”

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January 25, 2011 Reply

I agree, newspaper companies need to evolve to be not just businesses that sell news(paper). That train has left the station! But if it was remotely obvious, why does it seem that the newspaper companies still don’t “get it”?

January 25, 2011 Reply

A question best left for the newspaper companies to reply. Thanks for the comment Sukesh.

January 25, 2011 Reply

I wonder where the thought that the Internet is a free medium comes from?
Whilst it is true that there is a lot of stuff on the web, and free stuff at that, but the universal truth is that quality comes at a premium.
Did I read somewhere that a billion apps have been downloaded from the Apple app store? A significant percent are free, but if even 10% of a billion apps cost just a dollar that is a serious chunk of change and an indication that people are willing to pay for entertainment and utility (I’ll include news and analysis as a utility).
Perhaps the structure of media will change when the reliance on plant and equipment is removed (paper and ink, the cost of presses and distribution etc make for an onerous model). But the essence of the matter is the content. Collectives/aggregators and syndication will exert leverage to establish new distribution models where professional creators (reporters, analysts, photographers, videographers etc) will find audiences without the capital requirement that formed the barriers to entry that made the Hearsts and Murdoch’s barons.
The idea that information wants to be free is a simplistic idea that needs to be thought through.
You might find this article from Wired interesting http://goo.gl/cwBjF

January 25, 2011 Reply

I suppose the “free” comes from the fact that no money need be expended. On the other hand, to find good quality, premium content, one must put in time to find it – or hope that their community provides it.

This is one thing I think communities help solve: by having a network of like-minded, people with similar interest, one can “receive” news that is already relevant and top quality. This takes away the need for people to search for news, and also I infer that only “good” news spreads.

I agree, that the reduced need for capital and infrastructure will indeed open up significant opportunities for professional creators. It is an exciting time ahead.

I am just reading your linked article. Thanks for the great response, David.

January 25, 2011 Reply

Free or otherwise is, in my view, not as critical a consideration here compared to, if or not the piece of info/news is of value, and then secondly and as Justin put it, the fact that the same piece of “news” may be sourced at no cost elsewhere. The fundamental principle here I still believe is for online content-related businesses (assuming they are wanting to make some $$ at some stage), must remain focused on the value they deliver. If the value is unique and/or dramatically add value to my life, then I’ll be compelled to pay for it!

January 25, 2011 Reply

I like the way that is put. Value = Pay. Great point, Sukesh. Thanks

January 25, 2011 Reply

Newspapers and journalism are certainly evolving, and monetization is a problem. The apps model seems to be opening up possibilities for micropayments, which is one route. A freemium model (some content free, some paid) seems to be taking hold, though some centralization could be useful. The ebook readers are a natural fit for this type of service, and are already doing it–though it is early days in seeing whether this model will prevail. Another interesting issue is that individual reporters, particularly in the tech press, are creating their own blogs….so readers can subscribe to individual commentators rather than having them pre-arranged in a conventional newspaper. Interesting times!

January 26, 2011 Reply

Hi Brian, thanks for the great comment. I think there is certainly opportunity available and being taken advantage in various media outlets – tablets, apps and e-books etc. However, my observation is that this may need to change in the future, because the way content is produced is changing- from hired journalists to freelance, citizen journalists. As a result news can originate from anywhere, and at anytime. Newspapers will often not be able to monetise this form of news consumption. One thing they could monetise is the post-news discussion – where experts and influencers can discuss and debate the news – verify it and so on. See my post this afternoon for more on my perspective.

Another issue to consider, more so for the independent journalists, is that of how to monetise your blog – your news. There are the possibilities of niche-reporting and getting advertising revenue from click-through adverts. But, I see this form of revenue changing in the future. Perhaps citizen journalism could be arranged in a cooperative business model. Such that journalists become “shareholders” and from all the revenue gained by the news organisation, they get a share of profits based on their readership, views and so on. What do you think?

January 26, 2011 Reply

“When I read something, how do I know that what I am reading is true and credible?”

The issue here is what marketing people call branding. You know certain news brands are credible. In the past these brands were mastheads or news organisations. For example, the BBC, Australia’s ABC or Radio NZ are all trustworthy news brands. Newspapers can also be trusted brands – up to a point.

Trusted isn’t the same as unbiased. The (British) Daily Telegraph is a consistently Tory newspaper. You can reasonably trust it to deliver largely true and credible news, albeit filtered through Tory eyes.

January 26, 2011 Reply

Haha, thanks for the comment Bill. Great point. In fact, that is the way newspapers “niche” themselves – by taking a a viewpoint that is similar to the readers they want to attract.

However, as mentioned in my reply to Brian, I think that there is a new form of credibility that needs to be established. Not a credibility to produce true and valid news, but a credibility to validate other news. The reason for this new form, is that I see many forms of news erupting around the world, from many different sources. But the issue with this type of news, is that we have no idea how valid it is of itself. Herein, lies the opportunity for large media and news agencies: become the validator for these pieces of news. See my post later today, for more of my thoughts. Thanks for commenting!

January 26, 2011 Reply

[...] & Economics, Musings by Justin Scott — Leave a comment January 26, 2011 Solve the problem of validity as a newspaper agency, and I WILL pay for your service. Why? Because then I know that I am not [...]

January 26, 2011 Reply

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