It’s important to celebrate the little victories right now. It’s how we stay sane.
Even in the face of a crisis that threatens the continued existence of newspapers at all levels, small wins are vital. Whether that’s the boost in subscriptions at local titles or the bucking of the conventional wisdom around who can provide good coverage. It’s there if you look hard enough.
Good news, especially in Europe, as subscriptions surge based on data from Piano. Obvious that people were looking for information. https://t.co/IRXOuuluh3
— Mr Anderson (@kevglobal) April 28, 2020
Despite that, it’s undeniable that the focus isn’t on expansion at newspapers. It’s about survival, and will be for the foreseeable future. There isn’t a media company in the world that hasn’t been touched by this. Even if some countries provide bailouts to their media, we won’t get through it without the public’s aid.
Which is why it’s very frustrating that some journalists are so terrible at communicating with that public about their publications’ paywalls.
In it together
As much as this is a crisis for the media, it’s as acute for the public. There is understandable panic and confusion. Misinformation – potentially deadly – is everywhere. It follows then that the public – not ‘our readers’ (not yet) – are looking to trusted newsbrands to provide that information. It’s just as understandable, then, that they should feel frustrated when that information is gated. And really, can we blame them for becoming habituated to free digital news over the past decade or more?
The public has not, for the most part, been privy to internal discussions about newspapers’ finances, or falling CPMs, or ad blacklists. Instead, most of the messaging around paywalls over the past few years has been predicated on the idea that you have to pay for quality, which has worked for some.
Despite that, the public by-and-large still do not choose to pay for online news. That’s especially true in comparison to entertainment products – even multiple entertainment subscriptions. So when they hit the paywall, they frequently push back. That’s understandable.
Shouting and shaming
What isn’t understandable is the furious reaction that journalists have to being asked to answer for their paywalls (i.e., explain why content is gated to content consumers). I won’t link to any examples. There are plenty out there, and I suspect you’ve seen them: hectoring replies about why you wouldn’t ask other people to provide work for free (although you might if your life depended on it), or about that fact that it costs good money to produce journalism. But really, this approach doesn’t seem to shame many people to pay as a result.