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Journalists are 'egomaniacs', so pay walls won't work

Journalists are 'egomaniacs', so pay walls won't work

The I Want Media's The Future of Media: 2009 discussion held at NYU yesterday gathered the most renowned names in the new media world to present their visions of the future of information media. Present were Gawker chief Nick Denton, Jack Dorsey, cofounder and chairman of Twitter; Bonnie Fuller, creator of Us Weekly and founder of Bonnie Fuller Media; Alan Murray, deputy managing editor and executive editor online at The Wall Street Journal; and Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist.

Perhaps of most interest to have come from the exchange were Denton's statements about journalists' attitudes, their inaptitude for internet blogging and the pay wall debate which is currently dominating news provision dialogue.

As journalists strive to prove their adaptability to other forms of expression for fear that the traditional printed column is loosing its ink, Denton doubts their blogging abilities, maintaining that he wouldn't hire even the best of grand paper journalists, because, "they don't adjust well to working online." In response, WSJ's Murray sparred that he is wary of taking on techno hacks - the mix of classic training and new multimedia is not conducive to great reporting. When asked why, Murrray was rather ambiguous, "A little bit of attitude, a little bit of personality," he said, and "the ability to get into a conversation with your readers". Equally, he conceded that the WSJ's own journalists,at the top of the professional ladder, would not prove to be 'great bloggers'.

The speakers were dismissive about newspapers' attempts at self-salvage "they have nothing that people are going to pay [for]," Denton said. And online pay walls? Forget 'em." His reasoning is less commercial than personal, "we are egomaniacs". The Time's experiments proved that journalists thrive on their public position. Payment for viewing reduces the number of eyes viewing their work, so when "they fall out of the public discussion", morale and motivation suffers.

Newspapers have yet to find the correct pay wall model, according to Murray. Editors need to seriously research which content is valuable enough to be worth placing behind a pay wall. The Times, for example, rushed into this mistake by placing their most popular columnists behind a pay wall, drawing a facile reasoning that the most popular content is also the most valuable.

The issue of the pay wall is a painful issue for publishers seeking to save their printed papers while maintaining online services, as well as having to deal with attendant ethical issues of payment. The WSJ is currently encountering this controversy. The WSJ was the only newspaper in the top 25 to have increased its circulation this year, arguably because it had erected a pay wall. Yet, the company is also demanding that it receives traffic from Google, despite the fact that this would lead viewers to predominately blocked content, and raise resentment among the paper's subscribers. The WSJ may have just shot itself in the foot. Step by step directions for 'how to read the WSJ for free online' using the Google search engine have been posted by Silicon Alley Insider, Nicholas Carlson, keen to show that "you can't completely have your cake and eat it."

According to Dorsey, even Twitter is considering incorporating a payment system in its services.

Paywalls and subscription are rarely discussed independently from the often polarising subject of the place of advertising. Murray is of the greater independence camp, "we are not all going to make our living off of advertising," he said. Yet, Denton believes the contrary: gadget industry coverage, video games, and entertainment gossip are profitable sources. Moreover, 'eyeballs' (also known as pay clicks) on Gawker for "Ivy League gossip or hipster gossip, stories like the Hipster Grifter or a Harvard murder, something like that, will do better for us than, say, some random Britney story."

The debate reinforces the fact that no one is under the illusion that the Internet is a watertight medium in terms of access and profitability. Agents across the media spectrum are evidently aware that it will take much trial and error before a workable and proftiable solution can be found.

Source: New York Observer



Christie Silk


2009-06-04 12:18

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