The web, by and large, is built to be free and is meant to be supported by advertising.
Since its inception on the web, news sites like the The Huffington Post, Reuters, AP, The Verge, Engadget and many others built upon that model and for the most part, they have been successful in their endeavors. However, because these publications are so focused on pageviews, the collective unsaid motto across news sites in the recent years seem to have been: “It’s better to risk being wrong and still get the story out fast to the readers than to be slow but accurate.”
In the new age of journalism, how fast new information can reach the readers is prioritized over how accurate the information actually is.
The umbrella question then becomes, of course, how do you get more readers? And that’s where we see the stuff everyone hates about today’s news industry and yet, can only helplessly look from afar without being able to change anything about it.
Sensationalist headlines. Stories about a certain companies’ CEO’s mistress. Sex. Drugs. Alcohol. A naked founder of a company filmed on a beach and his video appearing on the front page of Gawker. Senseless regurgitation of even the most mundane stories from other publications. Publishing unverified rumors and repackaging them to seem as though it’s the truth. Publishing some unknown analysts’ predictions and then holding the pertaining company against those numbers. Marking even the most insignificant stories as “EXCLUSIVE”. And so on.
You get the gist of it.
That’s how news sites (I’m only going to focus on tech news sites here since that’s what I have had experience dealing with, although I’m pretty sure the situation herein is generalizable across the board) who built their foundations on the Internet are these days. And I don’t think it’s going to change any time soon since the methods mentioned above seems to be working.
There are, however, others who are willing to do something different than what is considered as the “norm” above. And very much like how the New York Times and Wall Street Journal built its website behind a paywall and trust readers would want to pay for quality news written by an experienced newsroom of writers, these sites are daringly asking you to pay for their services. In exchange, you don’t get any of the crap above. You get what was considered news 20 years ago: unfiltered facts and statistics.
So far, there have been too little news sites employing this kind of business model to prove any evidence of sustainability, but with the launch of The Information by Wall Street Journal’s former tech journalist Jessica Lessin and her all star team of reporters today, we might see a glimmer of hope in the future. For $399 a year, they will be competing against services like GigaOm’s Research and Business Insider’s Intelligence, both of which, like The Information, is targeting the professionals in the tech sector over those of the casual readers.
An easy analogy would be to think that they’re the Mac Pro to a free web sites’ Mac mini. Will they be successful in the future? I don’t know – currently, there’s too little evidence to judge if such a business model will sink or float (I do know, however, that Business Insider’s Intelligence is bringing in a decent amount of revenue to the company against their free web model).
Just like the Mac Pro, these services (more than sites) aren’t for everyone. Some of us still love our cat gifs, airplane tours or 13 Simple Steps To Get You Through A Rough Day listicles. And that’s okay – these forms of entertainment that gives us the chance to kick back after work on the couch and actually surf through some leisure contents on our iPads. But what if we need something more substantive? Are cold hard facts from the same site that serves us a 109 Cats In Sweaters listicle good enough?
A new wave of paid, professionals-focused sites aims to answer that question with a convincing no.
And I truly hope it works out well for them.
P.S.: I wonder how many subscribers The Information will have to get to pay off for that domain alone.