Paying for decent journalism

Strong journalism is essential in a strong democracy, but in some respects at least it appears that serious journalism is going down the gurgler.

Even attempts at serious journalism are questionable. Multiple news organisations put significant resources over the last couple of weeks into trying to analyse and report on the Panama papers.

Newsrooms cried wolf, in collaboration with a political activist, and seemingly in collaboration with opposition parties.

The result was overblown, a public turn off and proved and probably achieved very little.

Big news this week (amongst journalists) was the proposed merger of Fairfax Media and APN. Who knows whether that will turn journalism around or just dump a few more reporters on the scrapheap, reduce choice and impose paywalls (which will probably reduce choice further).

Today’s ODT editorial: Adapt, collaborate, or die?

Now of course, in the digital age, there is the expectation from the public that journalists will be everywhere, at all hours, that news, entertainment and opinion should be accessible at the touch of a screen, on a variety of platforms, online, live and instantaneous.

The mediums have changed. Technology has made news-gathering and presentation exciting, innovative, fast-paced, constantly evolving and challenging. It certainly does not allow for complacency, the enemy of good journalism.

Sadly, what has changed is that today’s “audiences” want and expect everything immediately – and for nothing. If they can’t get it for free, they’ll go somewhere they can.

But if good journalism is not valued, there is a huge cost – to media companies, and ultimately to the public they serve. The public often bemoan what is perceived as dropping standards of journalism, yet it is fuelling the change.

As long as the watchdog role of the fourth estate is undervalued in every sense, the democratic ideals of transparency and accountability are at risk. The ultimate winners of this race to the bottom? Those already at the top, who are striving to stay there: the Government, churches, judiciary, police, army, big business.

If a merger allows the new major entity to put up a paywall for digital content, it may safeguard its future – and that of others seeking to do the same, such as this newspaper.

We all need to go back to the future to a certain extent: back to valuing journalism and the work that goes into producing content – and back to paying for it (on whatever platform). Now more than ever, in an age of spin doctors, gatekeepers and public relations staff, we need a healthy, competent, independent and well-resourced media.

The ODT is keen on paywalled news, I thought they had announced they would have moved to subscription news by now.

How much is decent journalism worth?

I used to subscribe to the ODT but stopped that last year when I realised I was hardly ever reading it. I do most of my reading online.

I guess I pay indirectly by having to navigate a mass of advertising online – but I can’t remember if I have ever bought something prompted by an online advertisement.

I’m very practised at ignoring them and I don’t impulse shop anyway. I’m far more inclined towards research shopping online, comparing products and prices, looking for reviews and opinions.

I have subscribed to Consumer online for this purpose, but occasionally  ponder whether that’s good value for money. I think I probably get a return on that investment.

I have subscribed to a couple of overseas publications but underutilised them and am unlikely to do it again, probably.

The problem for me with paying for a print subscription for online access to the ODT is that it would only be a small part of my news sourcing.

If a joint APN/Fairfax media also paywalled that would be an additional cost – and I would still want to view other news sources.

One of the key things I do is research across multiple sources, and I don’t feel inclined to subscribe to a heap of them. Publicly funded and free (currently) RNZ would get more attractive, but I would want much wider coverage.

I value good journalism and good news, and detest a lot of the media junk food.

I’m an on again off again subscriber to Sky and hate all the crap and self promotion (advertising on a subscription service).

I don’t think a bunch of separate news subscriptions are the answer. Especially when they want print prices for online access, that just doesn’t add up to me.

I would happily pay something for good journalism and good news and analysis, up to a point.

But I have seen nothing yet that attracts my custom.

And I really have no idea what would. I haven’t seen any yet that’s attractive.

I’d really like to hear other opinions on this. I think it’s an important issue with no obvious or easy answers.

Leave a comment

21 Comments

  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  12th May 2016

    I think you’ve described the problem well but the only solution I can see is an aggregator like iTunes or Netflix taking on news sources as well. I can’t see a future for news media companies on their own.

    Reply
  2. Gezza

     /  12th May 2016

    interesting. Active Farcebook user numbers are falling from what I’ve read. Young people aren’t so keen on it any more either apparently. http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/2324776/facebook-users-will-drop-like-flies-in-2017-with-80-percent-likely-to-flee

    Reply
    • One of the difficulties is that it is a continuously evolving situation.

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  12th May 2016

        TBH I thought paywalling was going to be a non-starter and that paid advertising, infuriating though it can sometimes be would have to be the way they go. Looking for which ad is blaring out from somewhere as I’m trying to read is a pain, but I do like access to free online news & put up with ads as the price of getting it free. I don’t use farcebook much, mainly just pop in to check out any latest photos from te whanau.

        Reply
        • Pickled Possum

           /  12th May 2016

          Morena Geeza e hoa

          Who needs Ads to slow your machine down?
          Not I said Possum
          Well Ad Block is for you to Geeza, no more annoying Ads

          AdBlock … its a must have, for the serious news browser.
          https://adblockplus.org/

          facebook or more commonly know as legfilm in te house, is a source of many whanau red face days, dontcha think?

          Over and Out
          Possum

          Reply
          • Gezza

             /  12th May 2016

            Lol. Affirmative, e hoa. Golf Echo Zebra Zebra Alpha – out.

            Reply
            • Kitty Catkin

               /  12th May 2016

              Ad Block Plus. As I am never going to be interested in anything being sold in this way, I have no qualms about blocking ads.

      • duperez

         /  12th May 2016

        The sands moving so quickly is the problem. Generations got used to sitting down with a smoke and the the daily paper after dinner. Now the news, well the stuff on the news sites, is instant, momentary and not momentous. Details of the Dardenelles has lost to a Kardashian bum and hooking up a bachelor with some silly woman.

        “Decent journalism” will become less evident and less local as the numbers knowing what that is die out. (“Decent journalism” meaning what it used to mean rather than “decent” meaning being what we agree with.)

        Reply
  3. The changes in reporting and editing in the NZ Herald meant I would not accept the cagendas and opinions that diverged from my own in a paper based format. I dropped them a decade ago as a paper based sub. The content bias was as strong a driver to drop them than the fact I could access them online. I do read them every day, but it’s a gloss over. My early morning routine is to take my iPad from bedside table at about 6.30am and have a cursory glance at the following: 1) Telegraph 2) Guardian 3) Herald 4) Stuff 5) YourNZ 6) Kiwiblog 7) The Standard 8) NBR 9)Australian and SMH 10) Twitter 11) Facebook 12) a Safari interest site. During this time I’ve generally got coffee, had a shower and messaged various family members or friends, shared a link or two via What’sapp/Facebook/Viber to text. Voice calls virtually never happen until after 9.00am.

    My permanent subs are:

    UK – The Spectator – years
    UK – Telegraph – years
    NZ – NBR – years
    AU – The Australian – you can’t get a look in here without a sub

    Others publications I read all the time to help my issues framing are: Statesman, Express( Brexit tabloid), DailyMail(tabloid), derSpiegel (left leaning German), HuffPost, Washington Post. I need to add that belonging/liking to many groups on Facebook is a big hook that I take happily.

    As I see it people now have the choice how they access news and social and political commentary. Information that captures and complements one’s interests and that is FRAMED in manner that suits a person’s worldview is now de rigeur. Platforms offering choice and options and doing it well will flourish as more and more of the “native online” children mature. Bringing these kids into a media institution’s family fold and keeping them there will be the future challenge of mainstream media.

    Reply
    • Iceberg

       /  12th May 2016

      Just get an RSS reader like Feedly for your iPad, and you’ll never visit a new website or blog directly again. All in one place.

      Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  12th May 2016

      I think the answer is a “pay per article” solution. I have no interest in funding Lefty journalists to write emotive, fact-free nonsense – you can get that for free anywhere. Nor police reports with added sensationalism. But a few cents per story would be sensible.

      Reply
  4. Maggy Wassilieff

     /  12th May 2016

    I will not pay for any NZ journalism and haven’t done so for some years now. I can’t even be bothered checking out free newspapers etc when I go to a cafe. Its all so predictable. I use various online sources for my o/s news and the girls in the KKK (Kaiti Krochet Klub) are just choice for the local goss.

    Reply
  5. Tau toko most of the comments so far. Excellent analyses from duperez and traveller IMHO.

    “back to valuing journalism and the work that goes into producing content – and back to paying for it”

    This a bit of a socialist position isn’t it Pete? Shall we substitute “public works” for ‘journalism’, “infrastructure” for ‘content’ and add the word “tax” after ‘paying’?

    I think personal choice and the exigencies of the free market have largely put that idea to bed some years ago now and I applaud this. Many will pay but I suspect the majority will seek out free news and current affairs commentary or utilize the available variety of both? Traveller’s interesting synopsis of his daily routine shows that someone who pays will also range across the gamut of free media.

    Seems to me there’s also new (or perhaps only ‘new’ to me) and positive aspects to contemporary, rapidly evolving journalism: Not just the content but the ‘degree of separation’ of the sources? Whereas you previously accepted the Herald’s and/or Listener’s ‘unbiased’ opinion at 4 or 5 degrees of separation, and perhaps talked to work colleagues at 1 degree and wrote letters-to-the-editor at 3 degrees; nowadays you still have all those options – with the possible exemption of Herald ‘acceptance’ – plus Facebook at 2 and 3 and 4+ degrees, SM, MSM internet, freeview TV, pay TV and all the others. A vastly expanded array of degrees of separation, many of them ‘free’.

    Personally I see this as encouraging people to decide for themselves, provided they have the resources to do so. It might also encourage many people to obtain the resources? Claims that people don’t have the resources are extraneous until proven (although I make such claims myself at times). Everyone on YourNZ claims to “make up their own mind”. Are we representative of the general population or are we ‘special’?

    Surely this choice of sources, contents and real-or-potential own-analysis is all essentially good?

    “We need a new kind of press which, no matter what opinion it stands for, will allow the contrary opinion equal expression, a press which does not seek to force opinions on the public, but to bring about discussions;” (Frank E Warner, ‘Future of Man’, 1944)

    Aside from occasional ad-hominem extremists and the super-opinionated, Warner might be describing YourNZ?

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  12th May 2016

      Kia ora PZ. Trav’s a lady mate (well, I reckon).

      Yep I want to see some form of contestable opinion in free media still widely available.

      Reply
  6. Kitty Catkin

     /  12th May 2016

    Anyone who thinks that journalism is sensationalist and biassed now ought to read some from past centuries-I don’t know how they got away with it.. No paper would print such things now, and scurrilous as some of today’s cartoons are, the c.18 ones leave them standing.

    Reply
  7. Goldie

     /  12th May 2016

    “I have seen nothing yet that attracts my custom.
    And I really have no idea what would. I haven’t seen any yet that’s attractive.”

    The best analysis by far is trans-Tasman: http://www.transtasman.co.nz/
    Politik is also good: http://politik.co.nz/

    Significantly, both are run by two very respected journalists, Max Bowden and Richard Harman, who got sick of the dumbing down of the mainstream media and struck out on their own.

    Reply
  8. Gezza

     /  12th May 2016

    I used to read The Trans Tasman on circulation in the last Department I worked in. On politics it was always excellent, very perceptive. They scored really well on any political or international relations predictions as I recall.

    Reply

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