A few things have happened in the last week that made me think deeply about the issue of paying for news.
“Best part of my Sat by @PeterFitz – I really should buy the SMH.”
Stay with me … there is a point.
The second thing that happened is that Week 5 in the course I’m teaching deals with copyright in the digital environment and I refreshed the lecture and engaged in class discussion with students about digital piracy and copyright.
I get a bit cranky and soapboxy during these discussions because I’m teaching students who want to work in the media, including journalism students, and many of the business models that supported making money in that environment have collapsed.
The third, and probably most important, thing that happened is that I watched Australian Story on ABC where Joanne McCarthy, that fabulous Walkley award winning journalist, talked about how she wrestled with appalling stories on child sexual abuse, and its cover up, in the Catholic Church.
There is a strong aversion to paying for news, particularly among Millennials, so I’m asking this:
How would we have found out about the Catholic Church if Joanne had not been working for the Newcastle Herald?
The Herald is part of the Fairfax stable of publications and Fairfax, along with other publishers such as News Corp Australia, is struggling to make money. Crikey.com reported on documents* last week that showed News Corp Australia’s stable of publications is bleeding money – revenues from The Australian dropped 20% in the 2012-2013 financial year.
A paper I wrote last year with Professor Mark Balnaves showed that while Australians are engaging with online news sites, with ninemsn and smh.com.au receiving millions of hits, money is not following. Fairfax Media showed a drop in advertising revenue of almost 24% in its print products but an increase of only 4.8% in its digital products. Advertisers aren’t following the readers and there are a myriad of competitors for the advertising dollars that has traditionally paid for journalism.
There are researchers examining how journalism can be paid for in a world where many people expect to receive their news for nothing, and there are glimmers of business models working, such as subscription, single copy sales, single article sales, advertising, sponsorship, donations and non-profit funding (Bakker, 2012). But it’s still expensive to produce these deep, deep investigative pieces and where will that money come from?
So back to that tweet …
Of course, you should pay for your news! We wouldn’t expect a plumber to do their work for nothing, or a surgeon, or a solicitor, or a scientist.
Journalism is so important in finding out dark secrets in society and we wouldn’t find out those things if we didn’t have journalists like Joanne McCarthy and a publication financial enough to support this kind of investigation.
*This article is behind a paywall