One challenge facing the news business is that new communications technology makes it difficult for news organizations to charge for information in the usual way. News circulates quickly and easily from a variety of sources. A bystander with a smartphone suddenly becomes the reporter on the scene.
So how does a newspaper survive? The Traverse City Record-Eagle has recently launched an online pay-for-content service. Headlines and ledes (introductions) are distributed at no charge, but substance and elaboration require a paid subscription. Here is a current example:
More than 100 people met on the campus of Northwestern Michigan College last week to discuss progress toward Northwest Michigan’s Food and Farming Network’s goal “to increase the resilience and double the value of the region’s food and agricultural system in 10 years.”
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The Antrim Review also requires a subscription, and the trend in the news business appears to be toward pay-for-content.
The success of this business model hinges on the exclusivity and quality of the content.
- Regarding exclusivity, if the Record-Eagle charges for the same online content that the Petoskey News-Review provides for free, why buy an R-E subscription? But how does the News-Review survive and thrive?
- As to quality, The Elk Rapids News has recently improved the quality of its printed paper, while it continues to restrict availability of its online content, mainly by not archiving its stories online. So you have to get the printed copy to get most of the news.
- Elk Rapids Live provides only online content that is timely, archived and increasing in quality, but it has limited exclusivity.
Also there appears to be a developing approach that co-opts these ‘smartphone on the scene’ citizens while still using aspiring citizen-journalists, both informally and formally. Ordinary citizens receive notoriety and bragging rights. Cub reporters gain needed experience. The news force at a for-profit newspaper becomes a mix of paid workers and volunteers. But typically for-profit businesses are not familiar with managing volunteers. Challenge is everywhere.
The transformation of the news business and particularly the community-based newspaper continues.