Lately, I’ve been studying the Reuters report ‘Journalism, Media and Technology Trends and Predictions 2019’. It’s a reading I heavily recommend.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this report is the pivot toward subscriptions, memberships, and donations. There are successful media organizations like The New York Times (subscriptions), The Correspondent (memberships), and The Guardian (donations) that prove those models might work.
However, these three business strategies differ significantly in their approach: The basis for a successful subscription business is high-quality content the public is willing paying for. Whereas with memberships and donations, people need to have a common set of values and beliefs to support the organization.
But the underlying foundation for all three approaches remains the same: trust. Journalism has faced a rapid decline in trust over the last few years, sparked by hyper-partisan politics, alternative ways of news consumption, and the blind self-confidence by the journalists and media brand themselves. Those are just a few pinpoints in a complex system of causes. We could talk for hours about how clickbait, copy-pasted stories, etc. fueled the eroding of trust.
We no longer have a high ground we never really deserved.
In hindsight, journalism made two notable mistakes: First, newspapers gave away their content for free when they moved to the web. They didn’t see the threat of Google, and players like Facebook or Twitter who had yet to appear. Second, and this fault is a relatively new one, they haven’t realized how the ways of communicating have changed. The internet enabled a new age of transparency. Even in 2019, most newsrooms are very much secretive of their processes and decisions.
Let’s face it: Journalists nowadays cannot afford to have an arrogant attitude. The ivory tower of newspapers has collapsed. We have to accept the fact we no longer have a high ground we never really deserved. We’re on a plain field with the public and desperately trying to climb an inexisting ladder won’t build trust but the contrary.
Now, we have to fight two battles at the same time: The issue of lacking trust and lacking revenue streams. And it’s quite obvious: If you want to build your business upon subscriptions, memberships, donations or even sheer reach, there is only one sustainable way to go. Be transparent, be honest about your mistakes, and listen to the public to build lasting relationships and meaningful services.