The coming news coverage gap

December 14, 2008

Will micropayments save the day?

The recession is accelerating the inevitable: Papers are dying all around us.

Whether you view this with a sense of nostalgia, disbelief or excitement, and however you feel about new media, I see a big risk in this changeover.

You see, Arianna is happy to point out that blogs are starting to break the news, as in the case of Obama’s infamous ‘bitter cling to guns’ comment. Some bloggers do get scoops, especially around political news. And they’ve covered uprisings and natural disasters where the press wasn’t allowed or couldn’t reach.

Still, 99% of investigative reporting still comes from traditional news organizations, and blogs simply add an editorial and social layer on top.

Also, only a handful of bloggers can expect to make a living from their high-traffic sites.  Those who blog about niche or local issues don’t have viable businesses under the current advertiser-supported model.  They usually have a day job.

After all eyeballs move to the web advertising dollars will go farther and support more and more properties.  But in the meantime, what happens when the papers go bankrupt and city, Washington and foreign bureaus are shut down? when AP and Reuters aren’t there anymore? Will laid-off journos start blogging while waiting tables to pay the bills?

This process will be abrupt and messy, which is feedstock for innovation.  Solutions will be found.  So I’m not worried about the long term.  Encouraging models are starting to appear.

But in the short-term it would be so much cleaner if we had micropayments.  $0.05 for a news piece, $0.10 to read a feature article.

The concept has been tried before and failed, but perhaps this is the perfect opportunity to give it another go.  I hope someone is pitching this right now and will have a solid product in 09, just in time.

10 Responses to “The coming news coverage gap”

  1. Nice bog you have here. I pretty much lurk the internet when I’m bored and read all I can about the organic lifestyle, but I really liked you view on things. I’ll bookmark the site and subscribe to the feed!

    • maristi Says:

      Thank you! That’s very encouraging. I just started putting my thoughts down a few weeks ago and really have no idea where I’m going with it. I hope you’re not a robot. Cheers!

  2. I heard an interview with some Wired magazine editor on this topic and he claimed that micropayments will not work because the mental effort of determining whether you want to pay does not justify the transaction.

    You don’t want to consider spending 5 cents on something. That is one of the reasons we buy a whole magazine issue or a whole newspaper issue instead of single sheets of paper with one article on each. It is even common to buy a subscription to a year worth of newspaper issues rather than each individual one.

    I think the future will see smaller news organizations employed by traditional media companies supplemented by a lot of unpaid news contributions from niche areas/topics, a model reminiscent of open source software development today.

    • maristi Says:

      That’s a good point. But look at how iTunes has standardized music around .99 so that we don’t even think about the price anymore when we add a track or ten. Definitely there would need to be a standardization so you know that a news article is always .05 and an investigative piece always .10
      Of course the other reason for micropayments’ failure is the high transactional costs, and there hasn’t been a good solution for that.

  3. The other problem with charging is that it is hard to compete with free. Sponsorships/donations/ads are a more likely source of revenue for bloggers. Clay Shirky wrote about it in 2002, and as far as I can tell he’s spot on.

  4. It turns out that Shirky has another, even more pointed comment on this topic. This one from 2003:

  5. maristi Says:

    Knut, I agree, Clay is spot-on and very prescient all the way back in 02. However I am not worried about Andrew Sullivan or Josh Marshal or maybe even the HuffPo being viable long-term with ads.

    The thing is as more and more of these ‘opinion’ blogs continue to thrive, the organizations that actually get most of the news, with their foreign bureaus and investigative reporters, are dying.

    Will Sullivan’s ad revenue increase so he can hire a reporter to travel all over the country for months, interviewing sources, attending press conferences, scouring and buying copies of official records, compensating informants, licensing pictures and other IP?

    I’ve been very encouraged lately by how Josh Marshall tends to stick to a single story and follow it for days, requesting (and often obtaining) information from his own readers to shape the story and fill the gaps, but I don’t know if this can fully replace investigative reporting. Plus it’s bound to experience some growing pains (e.g. inaccurate info being submitted or from poseurs) that slow its adoption.

  6. […] to save the newspapers.  Andrew Sullivan dismisses it (it’s too late!).  I do fear a news coverage gap as traditional media shuts down their foreign bureaus, investigative reporting teams, […]

  7. […] we are doomed to a dangerous lack of of news coverage. Posted by maristi Filed in media, tech Tags: […]

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