John Ridding, Financial Times chief executive, has said that newspapers need to start charging for online content if they are to safeguard the future of quality journalism.
Ridding told MediaGuardian.co.uk that newspapers need to abandon the "free is good" mentality and said that he fundamentally believed that readers would support the move. "One of the worries for the industry in general is kind of a cultural expectation that news information should be free and we would challenge that because we believe quality journalism requires investment and investment requires revenues."
The problem is that publications appear to have little faith in their own products, fearing a drop in readership if they attempt to start charging for content. But Ridding stressed: "Do you gain more in revenue than you lose in readership?"
The Financial Times itself has a micropayment (pay-per-article) strategy. Readers can subscribe to receive 10 articles for free, after whch they are required to pay for the articles they read. The key, says Ridding, is "making yourself different and distinctive" and focusing on producing the best journalism possible: "our entire strategy relies on the quality of our journalism."
However, Ridding does admit that given the FT is a niche publication directed at a specific demographic, it is easier to market itself as something worth paying for. That does not mean it is impossible for more general news publishers to do the same, he argues. "I don't think it's a binary, black and white thing. All publishers should be thinking about what makes them different. Even their own brands give them a personality and identity which in many cases they have been building for centuries. All publishers need to be looking at what they specialise in."
Lionel Barber, the FT Editor-in-Chief, predicted in July that "almost all" news organisations will be charging for online content within the next 12 months and indeed recent moves by multiple news organisations to start charging for their mobile applications shows a trend towards this. It seems that publishers are more willing to 'test the water' and their ideas on how to charge for content via their mobile applications, before anything major is launched on their websites, most of which still remain free.
Ridding's greatest concern over whether or not to charge, was the direction journalism might take if publications don't start demanding something for their content soon. "Clearly we have to be worried about quality journalism," he said. "Journalism is a craft, it's a skill, it requires training, it requires investment." And if nobody is willing to pay for it, few will be willing to do it.
Publications should have a higher opinion of their worth, and greater confidence in the importance of their product, as one commenter wrote in response to MediaGuardian's article: "The realisation that newspapers [might] not be there will change the public's attitude towards paying. " If the threat of poor journalism grows more real, it stands to reason that more people be willing to pay to secure it's watchdog.
Source : MediaGuardian