What Will Work?

In recent years, many journalistic business models have emerged or are currently emerging that many believe will replace currently outdated modes of information gathering. The formation of new models has become necessary in today’s current economic climate, where many prestigious, big-city newspapers are struggling to attract new readers and keep old ones. The future models of the news industry that will be seen in the next few years can be divided into two main categories: business models and reporting models. The business model specifically determines the cost or lack of cost that will be available to customers over the Internet. A reporting or journalistic model refers to the myriad of ways in which the news can be presented online. News agencies will have to make good use of both in order to compete in a technologically advancing age.

The emerging business models that are going into widespread use include a variety of scenarios that each have their own separate pros and cons. In the face of lost revenue due to fewer subscriptions and loss of advertising, many newspapers are contemplating the “pay wall” business model. This business model typically involves existing newspapers charging readers a subscription fee in order to access their online content. The fee is usually charged on a monthly or yearly basis, but some have chosen to just charge a one-time fee for unlimited access to the material. As with many of these models, there are both advantages and disadvantages to consider for the reader and the organization.

Despite the fact that some critics feel that it is impossible to convince readers to pay for online content, many prestigious and big-city market newspapers have found success by charging for online use. In the case of publications like The Wall Street Journal, many readers feel that the content is indispensable and therefore worth the price. Similarly, the major news organizations that are charging for content are offering premium access to a complete package of all of their coverage. While many of these papers have maintained a loyal following, there is still the underlying concern that the sheer abundance of free online content will trump the pay websites at some point in the near future and force them to retract their payment policies. Several papers, such as The New York Times, have already dispensed with their payment system due to public demand.

Another proposed platform for supporting a news website is a system similar to that of NPR or PBS where a single wealthy donor, a group of donors, or the general public take it upon themselves to fund subsidize the cost of independent journalism. This method would theoretically prevent any heavy influence by corporations or other special-interest groups that would seek to affect the content made by journalists. As for content, both PBS and NPR are regularly cited as having some of the best quality reporting of all of the major news outlets. It is reasonable to assume that newspaper-style content in online form would fare just as well.

More and more newspapers are moving their content online.

More and more newspapers are moving their content online.

Within this new sphere of technology and growth, various kinds of reporting models have emerged as a result of the rapid expansion of the internet. Many bloggers have taken up the mantle of “linking”, wherein a website has a relatively small staff who mostly synthesize and categorize content from other sites and mainly act as a conduit to outside resources. Most of the original content for these sites comes from freelance writers and independent contributors. The most prominent sites with this feature include both The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast. These websites provide an aggregate of information on a countless number of topics. Despite their tendency to send people away from their site, these blogs remain immensely popular, as the public will continually return to them for more information.

In stark contrast are specialty blogs such as Politico. Blogs such as these take one particular subject or area of study, be it entertainment, science, politics, sports, or technology, and focus their coverage solely on that topic. These blogs go into great detail and provide an ample of specific information on a variety of subjects. In a similar fashion, many small-town newspapers have found thrived online by creating “hyperlocal” specialized coverage exclusively on the events in that part of the country. In some cases, many small towns are having more success with these particular blogs than they are with their own newspaper, resulting in some eliminating their print version altogether.

In terms of who is doing the reporting, the availability of technology that allows one to record and publish material for public consumption has empowered the citizenry to be its own reporter. This increase in the number of amateur journalists and the increase in the number of freelance professional journalists is a situation that is suited well for the workings of the internet. In some instances, the amateur journalist who is highly proficient in their knowledge of a particular field may be preferable to the professional who must cover a wide variety of topics. Another factor that may empower the citizen journalist is their proximity to an event or an individual, gaining them a level of access that the professional journalist can only dream about.

Personally, I think that a successful system of journalism will incorporate a delicate balance of both professional and amateur journalists, working together to provide the best quality material for the consumer. The availability of the amateur will be well synthesized with the expertise of the professional to provide fast, accurate content. As for the business side, as NPR and PBS have shown, quality journalism need not rely on advertisers nor the incentives of lucrative profit in order to be successful.

A great summary of what the future may hold for journalism and newspapers can be found here in this video featuring Ellen Hume of Boston University:

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