Reading the Guardian the other day, a banner appeared along the bottom:
“Thank you for reading The Guardian. Help keep our journalism free and independent by becoming a Supporter for just £5 a month.”
Newspapers and other content providers face a constant battle to provide quality content free of charge. The recent decision by Apple to launch software that allows programmers to block ads has once again brought this topic to the attention of the public.
Paying for news content
It's paradoxical that newspapers should give away content and yet still expect (hope?) that people will be prepared to go out and pay for the hard copy. Yes, there is a pool of hard-core traditionalists, who still enjoy black ink on the fingers, the slightly musty smell of freshly printed paper and the intellectual gravitas of carrying the Pink ‘Un. But they are dwindling.
That’s not to denigrate print - appetite for content remains, as demonstrated by the success of i, launched in 2010, as well as the increasing distribution numbers of papers such as the Evening Standard & Metro.
What brings all of the discussions together is the need for differentiation in order to, not just survive, but stay ahead: challenging editorial, new formats, limited availability, and better quality journalism.
Political leanings aside, some of the Guardian content (I’m a particular fan of the sports section) is some of the best around, certainly more varied, intelligent and well-researched than the content that is found behind paywalls. As the above shows, this may come at a price.
The threat from ad-blocking
The threat is difficult to quantify but significant.
The norm is for print newspapers to cost money, small minority aside (City AM, Metro and the ES) but there doesn’t seem to be a line between quality of journalism and cost; there may have been in the past but it is reputation and reputability that are the drivers now.
What the future holds is increasingly difficult to predict.
Since I started writing this, Rebecca Brooks announced that the Sun will be free of charge again, after two years of a required subscription. Will this be a watershed? At the same time, City AM is fighting back by trialling a ban on ad-blockers on its website. Revenue from advertising (and deep-pocketed owners) is what keeps online content free –not just for newspapers but a range of outlets.
Why does it matter?
As PR professionals, staying on top of the news agenda is absolutely vital. It informs what we know and do and how we advise our clients. Many of them still (rightly) aspire to appear in the mainstream press. Yes, payment for some content is understandable but on the whole, we rely on free access to the majority of the web.
For the sake of us PR people everywhere, we must hope that access to the majority of online news remains free of charge.
But there’s a wider issue at stake – access to all sorts of information, that which informs our everyday thoughts and actions, should be available at little or no cost to everyone, otherwise whole swathes of society miss out.