Are You Willing to Pay for the News? (The Midweek Question)

Ever since I was a child, listening to the reports of the far-flung battles of World War II on my radio, I dreamed of being a reporter. I also had a pretty clear sense that I never wanted to be a businessman. Chasing down a lead? Prepping for a contentious interview? Getting a source to go on the record? Sign me up. Parsing spreadsheets? Hiring and firing? Talking about market expansion and brand development? No thanks.

However, here in 2021, the worlds of business and journalism are colliding with more ferocity and disruption than I have ever seen. It is a trend that has been accelerating over the last several decades. The business model that largely supported journalism, based on advertising, has collapsed for print (newspapers and magazines) and shaken radio and television news in a digital world. And the trend of putting out content for free in an effort to reach readers and viewers has driven down profits and shrunk and often shuttered newsrooms.

There is a new push for subscription models at major national and smaller local publications. It is something we are trying, in our own meager way, with the Steady newsletter. After giving much of my writing away on social media for years, I needed to try to create sustainability to support our efforts (so please subscribe if you can). We did announce last week that we are going to start reserving some content here for paying subscribers (beginning tomorrow), but I have also pledged to keep most of what we do free of charge. It’s a balance that seems might work: the payments of those who have the means can support content for many who do not.

Journalism is not free, especially deep digging investigative reporting and foreign coverage. But subscriptions can’t be the only answer. There was a wonderfully provocative title in Current Affairs magazine which gets to the heart of much of the problems we are seeing today: The Truth Is Paywalled But The Lies Are Free.

I am very interested in developing new business models even beyond this newsletter, perhaps with new technological innovations that can serve both to keep journalism a viable enterprise and also be of value to price-conscious consumers of news.

So my question for today is what do you think of paying for journalism? What publications do you subscribe to? Would you be willing to consider and experiment with other methods of support?

Thank you all for your continued support. And if you want to read even longer thoughts of my views of journalism, its business models, and importance much more broadly, here is an excerpt from our book WHAT UNITES US printed in The Atlantic (not paywalled).

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