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Guardian Editor: Belief In Paywall Salvation Is ‘Crazy’

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Guardian News & Media’s digital director had already called charging for online newspapers “a stupid idea” back in August. Now editor Alan Rusbridger has chimed in with scepticism, too…

“It would be crazy if we were to all jump behind a pay wall and imagine that would solve things,” he told an audience at Coventry University’s journalism department, according to “He conceded that, whilst pay walls are unlikely to be erected around, it was good that journalism was ‘trying different things’.

In other words, Rusbridger is saying a paywall alone cannot cure all of journalism’s ills, and GNM still seems unlikely to throw a wall around – but that doesn’t mean it has to sit still while its annual losses grow 40 percent, as they did in 2008/09 to £36.8 million…

While the company isn’t charging for content on the web, it has sold its £2.39 iPhone app to 70,000 users since December and is planning a pay-for readers’ club, giving extras like concert tickets and attendance in morning editorial meetings. “Asked whether the Guardian was a sinking ship, Rusbridger said: ‘No, not at all, but if I stop to think about the business model it is sometimes quite scary.'” GNM’s losses were published in parent GMG’s annual report in August and republished in press last week.

Times Online is due to go behind a paywall this spring and spin off a separate pay-for Sunday Times site, is successfully charging for its business news, Johnston Press is experimenting with local paywalls.

Disclosure: Our publisher ContentNext is a wholly owned subsidiary of Guardian News & Media.

4 Responses to “Guardian Editor: Belief In Paywall Salvation Is ‘Crazy’”

  1. I’ll start with the last line in your comment. Using the evolution analogy is fitting, because it is a process that never ends. Unfortunately for the news business it is moving slightly faster than your average mammal evolves, and will continue at this pace, or faster for the foreseeable future. I agree that Twitter can help develop an audience and even assist in story development, especially for breaking news. It’s almost always the first response platform utilized, and the tweeters are often not from the professional media. 140 characters is enough to say (or link to a longer form article) what is happening now, where it’s happening and maybe how. Answering why is usually takes longer, and requires more editorial involvement. I don’t think journalists, or even journalism, lack creativity or entrepreneurial spirit either. There is a huge gap in the business model, and advertising revenue is not (will not?) cover the expenses of news creation, production and distribution. Do we really want to create a class or profession of freelancers? This could evolve into a flood of giving the people what they want. TMZ and the tabloids already do a good job of that. Newspapers, (and to a lesser extent, TV) have traditionally done the “important,” more involved, sometimes unpopular, but necessary stories. The kind that few advertisers want to be associated with. The front page of the NY Times is loaded with stories that are un-tweetable. Sure newspapers made mistakes, took certain revenue streams (like classified ads) for granted and were slow to realize the change wasn’t just coming, it was here. Attaching a monetary/business value to what services they provide is the hard part. Microblogging, Twitter and future social media platforms that and should be used to communicate news and information. But they are tools, not a business. I don’t think either of them can fill the informational gap left by the demise of traditional journalism. There is a certainly more feeling than fact in that last sentence. But it’s not either/or, “new” media vs “traditional,” them vs. us. We’re all in the same boat, like it or not.

  2. Ian Thompson

    Hi JD,
    Im just interested in the idea of microblogging having obvious limitations. I dont see how. A “twit” or twitterer can develop an audience, develop a story (through tweets), have embedded advertising in his tweets (in the future) could even possibly ask for assistance and funding if people thought that what they were doing, investigating and writing about, were worthy. IF THEY ARE CREATIVE AND ENTREPRENEURIAL….#

    the thing is, will they be…
    who will people follow?

    I appreciate that professional reporting takes infrastructure and considerable application but dont see why this shouldnt merely “change shape”

    Anyway, what individuals or organisations do is just part of the equation.
    What does evolution demand ? what will it bring forth ?

  3. Articles and comments like this give me a headache. Professional reporting takes time and requires resources that cost money. There is no doubt that Twitter has increased the speed and distribution of certain types of news. It also can be used to efficiently promote this content, and the writers/editors/columnists that create it. But “microblogging” and Tweeting have obvious limitations once you get past breaking news, and few people can call it a job let alone a career. As for the journalists themselves, unless you can make a living at it, you won’t be doing it for long. Same goes for newspapers, which is why it is baffling to see Guardian editors and executives denigrate the idea of a “pay wall.” Is their content not worth paying for? Or are some suckers just paying for the newsprint and paper? So it’s not a paywall, it’s a “club,” or the next iteration, a “community.” How about just calling them “customers,” or is that too old school? Crazy is rejecting a pay wall when your company lost 36.8M last year. Crazy is making some users pay, but others don’t. And the ultimate in crazy is thinking that free is a business model.

  4. Ian. Thompson.

    We seem to be heading toward a new kind of organic news process. Twitter is already enabling us to get our information from sources that we can tailor. Paywalls will create local blogger journalists who tweet from various locales on different subjects.. or rather increase the speed of this process…

    its just a case of how we make contact with the relevent tweeters….this is the real area of news evolution…

    news organisations should be setting up microblogging platforms…