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The news isn’t free but we act as if it is

I really wouldn’t pay for any type of news because as a citizen it’s my right to know the news. — Millennials say keeping up with the news is important to them — but good luck getting them to pay for it

This is idiocy, of course; it assumes the news somehow just exists, free of investigation, interpretation and communication, in the same way as water and oil. In fact, air would provide a better analogy, because we do at least expect to pay for water and oil.

However, most of us actually hold this nonsensical view of news, or at least behave as if we believe it, and news publishers suffer as a result. Even if we minimise production and publication costs, perhaps through aggregation, data analysis, fabrication and regurgitation over investigation, and ditching print for web, there’s still some labour involved.

If we have labour costs but we’re not willing to pay them, that leaves a few alternatives, including:

  • Making people pay, through various models, e.g. paywall, metred paywall, voluntary donations etc.
  • Advertising
  • Largesse, through a business or not for profit benefactor
  • Volunteers
  • Charging for a secondary service, e.g. job and dating adverts

A 1967 print advert for tobacco

Old style print adverts won't work online

Unfortunately, none of these approaches appear particularly profitable or sustainable. We genrally ignore ads, or block them altogether, while a millionaire’s largesse and volunteer labour can disappear quickly.

The sheer number of news publishers puts downward pressure on paywall costs, while there are plenty of dedicated jobs and dating sites out there. It’s amazing there’s a healthy online news industry at all – surely we’ll have to cough up one day.