A modest proposal: or, how to save journalism, make money and safeguard self-regulation… by killing content

 

In this post, I suggest a way forward for journalism, both for journalists and media companies struggling to make content pay.

 

But the future sketched here is about more than keeping (making) content financially viable. In the aftermath of the Leveson inquiry, I believe it could also be a way out of the regulation/self-regulation impasse. I suppose it involves changing the definition of content, and probably journalism too.

 

It’s a longish post, but perhaps of all of my posts, I hope you read this one. I’d really welcome your input.

 

A few of my tweets like this one last week stirred a bit of interest among fellow journalists, academics and researchers. What the tweets proposed was something that, at the time, seemed like a sensible move: to post my research for my next book of non-fiction reportage – my interview transcripts, my documentation, my letters and emails sent and received, my offcuts and outtakes – on this site, either as PDFs or ebooks, free or with a donate button for anyone who enjoyed the book and thought them worth the effort.

 

Originally, this post was to be a response to these requests to me, to flesh out those tweeted thoughts. But the more I thought about it, the more possibilities I believe they open up, not just for me, but for journalism and the business of news as a whole.

 

The tweets came as a result of a conversation with my US publisher. He was telling me about an American comedian called Louis CK. A household name Stateside, Louis has begun distributing his work direct to consumers through his website – audio, video, live show tickets – together with notes that talk about how it’s funded, and where the money goes. I thought it was a nice touch. Then went home to bed, woke up the next day, went to work, and forgot all about Louis CK.

 

By ‘work’, I mean I’m a writer, journalist and editor. My day job is more the latter. But I also write investigative current affairs/history/non-fiction.

 

Now, there are some things inherent in what I do as a journalist that, to me, seem more and more nonsensical; destructive even. I’ll deal with two of them here.

 

1. We as an industry champion output, and treat material as if it doesn’t exist.

 

There are all sorts of reasons for this. Probably the main one is the fact that most journalists come from arts/humanities/language backgrounds. They/we polish, lionize, quote, stand or fall by the bit where they/we communicate, and the words they/we choose to do so. They/we consider our/themselves artists – ‘creatives’ – not manufacturers or processors.

 

But content goes through many different stages even before it is consumed, and only the first (the pitch, the angle) and the last (the execution of copy) are really acknowledged. They are the glamour parts. The parts witnessed by the public at large; the auteur’s inspiration and star’s tour de force.

 

In fact, what looks direct, perceptive, original or revelatory (when you get it right) is only the refined, elevator-pitch presentation of a larger body of material. None of the participants in this long, crucial stage – sources, fact-checkers, other media and material consumed, databases, editors, sub-editors – are ever acknowledged, less still picture-bylined. But without them, the piece would be (actually, often is) a woolly, unformed piece of bluff and bluster. Or, ahem, a columnist.

 

As I was writing this, Mark Earls of Herd fame put it well in a short post on CERN and Higgs-boson that talked about science as collaborative, cumulative process rather than big reveal. That’s science. But in fact, when you’re a journalist writing a long project, or a piece reliant on copious research (a book in the history/current affairs/politics/economics bracket like my last, for example) most of what you do, in terms of working hours, sweat and sheer headspace, is collaborative. You’re working with partners, present and absent, human and material, in obtaining, verifying, sifting, ordering research material. Like a detective, or a scientist.

 

Some of it makes it into the final draft for publication in one abridged form or another. But 99.9% – more – stays on my hard drive, in folders, Word documents, emails, downloads, voice recordings, transcripts, web archives, and whole swathes of copy that just doesn’t fit my final purpose, or my editor’s.

 

That’s how it is for most of us outside of the columnist or reviewing sphere. The material, evidence, documents, transcripts and outtakes informed my conclusions; but the nature of the cut means that (barring a court case or a polite speculative approach) nobody else gets access to it. Which means that people must choose to like, love, hate, disagree with, litigate, applaud, ignore, our final, polished work. (Also that, given a certain amount of proficiency and care in the writing itself, it can be hard to tell responsibly produced, well-researched output from lazy or inaccurate journalism.) And while editing is necessary, consigning the nine tenths of your work that doesn’t make that final edit to oblivion seems profligate, too.

 

Catherine Baker, a lecturer in 20thC history at Hull University, agrees: “In co-authoring the book I’ve been working on, really agonised about what to do with the transcripts. So rich, yet so much cut,” she tweeted in reply to my original post.

 

So I began to wonder, in the age of crowdsourcing, search and open data, what other authors and researchers, historians, students and whoever else, could do with their research.

 

To put it to good use, for them and for the wider world.

 

2. When it comes to research of our own, we’re all working blind, alone, and against the clock.

 

A far more pressing frustration for the jobbing journalist/non-fic author/reporter is finding good, robust, verifiable material. Journalists and media organizations don’t share material. You expect that, to some extent – even when collaboration would help everyone. Less comprehensible is that media organisations, newspapers, hell individual journalists, don’t even pool their own material.

 

So everything starts new. Every 1,000-word deadline starts with a blank page and a blank mind. Then a phone call to someone who’s a well-known rent-a-quote in the field, or whichever organisation’s press office re having the best day. Cuttings services like LexisNexis are great, but even they only show us stories other people have already run.

 

This is why there are so many bad stories, non-stories, and stories you’ve read a million times before out there. It’s why under-fire, understaffed, unbriefed newsdesk and weekly magazine staff find themselves pressing Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V and uncritically flowing in press releases and corporate/police/government statements; it’s why press releases themselves are so often poorly written, unsourced cobblers, and the ‘content’ for which the public is asked to pay plainly, demonstrably, untrue. In fact, this churning of non-information into non-content may offer clues as to why – even when it’s freepeople in the UK are turning away from news.

 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining because it’s tough to access good material, or because in the current economic climate publishers see content as an unfortunate overhead, and are cutting editorial staff to the point where research time is a luxury, then time-sheeting their editorial and journalistic staff so tightly to words per day that only output is rewarded, and research effectively penalised. I’m also not saying this is the only thing that happens. There’s still a lot of great research being done by journalists. But they’re mostly working alone, or in pockets.

 

So what if media organisations, journalists, publishers, journalists, content creators, people like me, were to make their material – the raw data, the documents, the offcuts and outtakes, the transcripts, the workings – open, available and searchable too?

 

Not all of it – I can understand there’s plenty they’d want to keep back for future use, or to withhold for reasons political, strategic, commercial, financial or legal, or just because they want to use it in a future piece. But being realistic, the great majority of anyone’s material isn’t any of these things.

 

The odd thing is, it sometimes happens – or at least, bits of it do. Science and law bloggers routinely link to any sources they refer to. And while I understand why some media brands don’t want to link to their competition everywhere, newspapers like the New York Times are already doing just that on their blogs.

 

Bad Science author Ben Goldacre has written well and at length about his frustration that even sites of record such as the BBC website don’t link to (or even host) original research sources in its reporting on science. In the same way, he argues that researchers publishing findings – for example, success in a trial – should also be required to publish, probably upfront, the aim, method and sample size of the trial; as well as records of any previous (failed) attempts to achieve the positive result they sought at the outset.

 

His main argument is that failure to do so deprives the reader – member of the public, journalist or fellow scientific researcher – the means to engage with the research, or even the subject. It’s like presenting a final number as fact, without revealing first principles, assumptions, processes. In this view, making your material available allows others to progress, debate, refute, use your work for the common good.

 

He also argues in his book that failure to adhere to these practices of transparency actually deprives their eventual pronouncement – the ‘story’ they tell – any context, and therefore real meaning. The public simply hears that red wine/chocolate/cats/marriage [delete as appropriate] are good for you/bad for you/cause cancer/cure cancer [delete as appropriate], without understanding why you might say such a thing. The oddball scientist in the castle has spoken. Oh well, they’ll speak again tomorrow, probably telling us the opposite. Carry on regardless.

 

Now, for what it’s worth, I think Goldacre is dead right. But I also think he’s wrong to stop with the reporting of science. I can see the same benefits and dangers in everyday journalism.

 

Now I’m not, NOT, pretending every piece, every book, every thesis, holds as much interest, or can serve the public good in the way that knowing the full story of a set of cancer drug trials would. But imagine how powerful it would be for a journalist (or publisher, or author, or editor, or blogger) to release the research relating to their story, in full, for each story (within reason and limits).

 

But is it desirable? Surely, yes. That way, journalism’s great store of research and data would become part of the open data movement, allowing for more accurate insight, more responsible reporting, greater research literacy among the journalistic class, connections to be made with access to a huge body of research, more robust defences against vexatious legal challenges and better researched articles.

 

Practical? Eventually. The backlog of research material would be raw, it would be held in disparate places in different formats, at the beginning. It wouldn’t always be made public, just more often. But it would be there, for other journalists, researchers, historians, detectives, inventors, entrepreneurs, everyone, to sift, if they wanted to.

 

3. What do we think would happen, then?

 

Maybe… nothing. Maybe none of the workings or materials on which we journalists base the few words we finally write and publish (few in comparison to the masses we acquire, produce, read, process) would be of any immediate use. Maybe those interview transcripts or briefings or notes or press releases or letters or emails would become something of an unvisited library. I don’t think so, but it’s possible.

 

Here’s what I think. At the very least, I suspect that adopting a norm in which the expectation is that a selection of workings towards the story – however redacted and piecemeal – are made available by journalists writing important stories would have an impact on journalism. And were journalists’ notes and transcripts already open, a journalistic year characterised by Johann Hari’s Orwell Prize being revoked, the circus around the Leveson Inquiry, the irresponsible and inflamatory journalism at Richard Desmond’s media empire exposed by reporter Richard Peppiatt, the scrapping of the PCC, the wider debate around self-regulation vs regulation for the British press, and more besides, would have unfolded very differently.

 

And as for how much it would cramp journalists’ style? Well, the code of practice already exists in the blogosphere, where the stock of trust (and the need to prove what you say with citation and link) has been historically lower.

 

Wikipedia editors, Redditors, PhD students writing theses, even undergraduates on dissertations, by and large, manage to achieve higher standards of transparency than most mainstream journalists or non-fiction authors. Hell, Johann Hari in his new role as GQ feature writer is forced to reference original sources for every claim he includes.

 

For Hari, it probably feels like the journalistic equivalent of being electronically tagged. But for an industry suffering a crisis in confidence, adopting this as a standard might just be a way to regain public trust on one hand, and do something genuinely useful, even philanthropic, with all that data on the other. Nobody hoovers information, statements, photographs, evidence, like other journalists. Right now, the majority of it – and we’re talking inconceivable volumes – just is taking up space in the darkest recesses of archiving operations in medialand’s backyard (in the case of staffers) or forgotten on home PCs (freelancers).

 

British journalism’s lax attitude to our used and unused material is not the norm, after all. I’ve written in Germany and the US. And in both of those places, I’ve been fact-checked by my editors. That never happened once in the UK. They ring you up, request your interview MP3s, ask for documents, original notes, witnesses to incidents. It felt great actually, like getting a quality kitemark (I passed). But even there, once the laborious process is complete, those documents are discarded. The in-house editors can review some of your evidence, but the readers, researchers, authorities, students, thinkers, even businesses who could benefit from trawling your research, and even begin to crowdsource aggregates and databases, who could stay blind.

 

4. Why should a successful news or content company care? They’re doing OK as it is.

 

It’s all very well for me to suggest journalists go around surrendering their raw material, but come on, no media organisation is going to sanction that, less still give you the time each day/week it might take for an already overworked staffer to do their personal data dump onto a CMS.

 

I mean, who’s going to foot the bill? Where’s the return? There’s just no money in it.

 

Well, maybe there is.

 

Because once you start to see journalism in these terms, you start to see a possible way off the horns of the terrible dilemma on which news outlets are caught.

 

It’s clear by now that people don’t tend to pay for news online – hell, they don’t tend to pay for much content of any kind online. The only news/content brands that people seem prepared to pay, either in significant numbers or with significant sums, to consume online are those dealing in information. For businesses, that means The Economist (which has long promoted its Economics Intelligence Unit as a credibility builder and a subscriber benefit) and the FT. Elsewhere, it means academic journals, research body digests, even specialist collation services.

 

So I want to suggest that the failure of other media organizations to monetize content has much to do with the reductive way in which they’ve treated what they themselves do.

 

What I mean is, of course people won’t pay for content online. The content you’re expecting them to pay for is so very paper-thin (no pun intended). If news is a headline and brief report surrounded by what comedy duo Mitchell & Webb nail beautifully here as “uninformed ad-hoc reckons”, then it’s the air we breathe.

 

The cavalier way the UK’s daily papers treat issues of accuracy, attribution and intellectual property themselves (copying and pasting from news services and other sources then adding house bylines – it’s happened to me several times – is pretty much standard practice; while even the Editor of Murdoch’s much-hyped Daily was reduced to imploring his staff not to “just scrape the newswires”, kind of give the game away. Content, as defined by big media, is now the air we breathe, and people won’t pay for it.

 

And of course, now there’s so little to it, a quarter of us don’t even want it for nothing.

 

So people do not pay upfront for journalistic content any more. So news has to be written into broadcasters’ charters. Newspapers make losses offline and on, and those that persist and thrive do so because they are subbed by people or organizations with deep pockets – Alexander Lebedev, News Corporation, the Guardian Trust. So time and money spent on producing the stuff is all loss-making. It’s all an overhead. No ROI. So it’s produced on a shorter, slimmer and more threadbare shoestring. And of course the product gets worse. Until nobody at all will pay for it.

 

5. But what if we see content differently?

 

What if we stop thinking of it as content? (I hate the bloody word anyway. Like: we have this thing, and we’ll now fill it up with content. When it’s all we’ve got, and it keeps escaping our brand and our paywalls and whatever else we try to pour it into, and getting free, then personally I reckon we’d better start calling it something a little more respectful.)

 

So we stop pushing the content (I’ll still call it that for the purposes of this piece, don’t worry) at all. Maybe we still produce it, in the same volumes we do now. More, whatever. It’s great for brand, for shares, for reach. But we never ever ask people to pay for it. It’s our radio-play single.

 

Instead, we… what?

 

We ask people to pay for what we do, 99% of the time. We do what The Economist and Bloomberg and the FT do. We ask people to pay for our intelligence. Our data. The stuff that nobody ever sees. The stuff that is so rich, so huge, in such volumes, so impossibly labour-intensive and dense and often raw, and copious, that the discourse around “stealing”, “pirating”, “taking”, distributing” it is laughable.

 

So we give what we currently call our content away, and make what we can through advertising.

 

This – the raw content, data, evidence, transcripts, documentation and research – is what we paywall.

 

Access to the entire payload is a subscriber or purchaser benefit, with unlimited searches and downloads. Micropayments allow one-off searches by non-subscribers. Reports pulled on data can be ordered for more.

 

The news carrier – the website, and in some cases the paper – then has a clear role. In breaking news, in coming up with new investigations and angles and so on – that is, in creating great content – it will become the most searched, most shared, most read, most talked about, and they point, link and refer users consistently to their own data and investigations, behind the wall.

 

This system rewards news media with original content, and thorough research. That is, it rewards good journalism.

 

The losers will be those papers that scrape the wires, and who practice ‘churnalism’.

 

Of course, I’m not claiming that anything like a significant number of readers would want access to this material on anything like a regular basis.

 

But with the boom of data journalism, the atomisation of research and the blogosphere, students and academies, marketing and ad agencies, PRs, publishers, private companies, public bodies, lawyers, scientists and the due diligence sector all hungry for information and background data for the key public narratives of the moment, a potentially large B2B market opens up with a tolerance for far higher subscription fees.

 

Essentially, it’s a recognition that the world is changing, and the methodologies of the business world that were meat and drink to Bloomberg, The Economist and the FT are increasingly appropriate to other walks of life, from reporting on education, politics, society, government, local community, sports, world news, and so on.

 

What it also also does is provide the newspaper and its journalism with near-absolute credibility. Here’s our story, and if you care to come inside, you can see how we arrived at it, and view the full transcripts. Check our facts. (In my experience with vexatious litigants, spin doctors and panicky PRs, this will also lead to a step-change in the way they do business. Any editor will tell you, that will make life a lot easier.)

 

Right now, that’s looking like a smart way out of the regulation straitjacket the fourth estate is wriggling about in, post-Leveson. If our plea for self-regulation is going to work, it’s got to mean something. So how about this?

 

But to be absolutely clear, in my view the release of research and workings and offcuts and evidence is an exercise worth undertaking regardless of the financials, simply because at this point in the game it is looking more and more like the only responsible course. To open up our research and our data and our workings, in the way that good science and public initiatives do, in the knowledge that others can find uses for it that simply aren’t ours, is the right thing to do, and not just because it’s a sop to those who would look to regulate the media, or because it might stave off financial ruin and ensure our independence.

 

I filled my latest book, an investigative piece on arms-running and government collusion in smuggling networks, with citations and sources. I had to, and it had nothing to do with my publisher’s lawyers, although they were happier for it. I did so for two reasons.

 

One, I knew that there was a very good chance it would become a record of the very niche business (smuggling by air) I was chronicling, so I wanted to make it easier for people to track down the primary sources I used. (Most of the approaches I’ve had about Outlaws Inc come from either movie and TV people, historians, or arms monitoring and law enforcement, and most of them have asked me for further detail for which I’ve had to go back through lost and unnamed computer files, discarded cuts and packed-away boxes of notes. I sort of wish I’d made my work easier for me to search…)

 

Two, because I knew that without them, so much of what I had found out would seem incredible.

 

So, it helped readers, and it helped me.

 

If I’d thought about it at the time, I’d have done more than that. It took me 15 years to research, and if I’d known I was going to produce a book at the beginning, I’d have been more careful with the early records I took.

 

So, for my next book, and for any pieces I write here, I’m going to try something that goes further, and I’d like to know what you think. I’m going to publish, here on my website, my workings. That means not just documents I gather, but transcripts of interviews, sketches I make, notes I take. Even outtakes from the finished, cut and published text.

 

I’m going to do it because I think it’s a good idea, and it rewards readers who enjoy the book too, just like a good bootleg of outtakes rewards the music geeks who enjoy a particular album. But mainly, I’m going to do it because I think it’s the right thing to do.

 

In my own daft way, I sort of think it’s an idea that could catch on. And that if it did, it might just do some good, and even restore some of the faith we’ve lost in journalism.

 

It could become a best practice; an expectation; a norm. Self-regulation people believe in? Well, stranger things have happened.

 

I’m game anyway. A one-man norm. Open reportage. Starting here, with the materials I’m gathering for my fifth, or second, book, depending on what you’re counting. It’s going to be a bit like being a good scientist. Or an open-data project. Or a Wikileaks of the self.

 

Or just a journalist who thinks there’s still a way to save self-regulation, if we’re honest, optimistic and foolhardy enough.

 

OK then. I’ll leave that there.

 

5. Questions for you.

 

What do you think? I’m genuinely interested. Who’s in favour/against in principle? Who thinks it would be cumbersome? (Please don’t say “unenforcable”, because I’m really not suggesting anyone enforce anything, just that we begin to adopt it as a practice one by one, if we want to.)

 

Anyone already doing this? Anyone got any experience from other industries? What are the problems with this approach?

 

Feel free to push back, to ask me about financial models (I have some ideas, but this probably isn’t the place to go full dweeb), tear my thinking down.

 

I genuinely will publish and engage with all sincere comments on this.

 

UPDATE: 11/7/12
Dr Catherine Baker (quoted above) has made some points that I wish I’d considered. The conversation was on Twitter, and I’ve string all of her tweets into one passage here. They are unedited, but for the expansion of sentences/words from ‘twitterese’ to regular grammar/spelling (ie: ‘ppl” becomes “people”) and the words in parentheses, to indicate what in my tweeted question she was referring to.

 

“Good luck. In UK higher education, funding bodies are moving that way, I think – they want the datasets they fund to be open. At the same time, if a norm develops that “everything you tell interviewers is published,” would that dissuade some people coming forward? And not just for privacy reasons as such – interviewees often worried about seeming silly or irrelevant. (Which they are not!) At least one academic did publish all transcripts online, though: Jonathan Pieslak, to accompany Sound Targets, [his book about] US soldiers/music. So an opportunity is definitely there. I might design it into future project, but accepting interviews themselves might be different. [if they know everything is potentially going to be open]. Interviewees are always in some kind of performance mode (lots of oral history literature on this actually!), the question is which!”

 

MP: Catherine’s point about interviews is a good one, and I’m not sure how to address it to everybody’s satisfaction. I guess my response would be that, for journalists, there would still of course need to be conventions such as on-record and off-record interviews; and I’m not suggesting an enforced norm. It may be that a lot of the interviews we gather have to be redacted, and a lot can’t be released. But in the words of the supermarket, every little helps. As for performance, I think Catherine has hit the button. Everyone’s performing anyway – you wouldn’t believe the number of times each week I become aware that I’m being played, or someone thinks they’re using me as a message-boy. The key is probably to interrogate the material, and contextualise that ‘playing’. PRs hate that. And if that isn’t a great excuse to relive the joys of this interview between ITV reporter Damon Green and Labour leader Ed Miliband, I don’t know what is.

 

Update, 12/7/12
Ed Smith, a journalist from London, has a more practical concern. He puts the following question:

 

“I’m not sure how practical it is to transcribe, let alone upload everything. When I go through my interview soundfiles, I take down the money quotes in full, or the ones I think I’m likely to use or refer to. The others I just mark down as aide memoire gobbledygook. It’s just too time-consuming otherwise. How worthwhile is that? The other thing: servers and bandwidth. There’s a cost there, at the very least.”

 

MP: I’d agree with pretty much all of that. I guess I think it could easily be a raw soundfile that goes up, suitably tagged. Or as much or little of the transcript as the journo wants to release. Equally, it might be that the interviews themselves sometimes don’t go up at all. To be clear: I’m not suggesting some Taliban of openness, a rigid approach, or even a contractual obligation to do this at all, on anyone’s part. I suppose I think that if even 25% of the material any journalist sloughed off as they filed copy was made available, we’d have a vast amount more searchable, and potentially fertile, scrape-able data that we could collate and use, on-record interview material, and documents than we currently do. I also think that even the consciousness that all material would at least be a candidate for this release – the journalist/paper/company can decide whether they want to or not – would be a fundamentally healthy thing for the next generation of journalists to internalize. Right now, I know from my own personal experience in a number of media organizations and on countless projects, there is a generation of journalists and editors out there who have no expectation that they will ever have to account for the veracity of their claims or their responsibility towards their material. This is why we get churnalism and plagues of columnists with their “ad-hoc reckons”, and why our expectations of newspaper (or ‘viewspaper’, to use former Independent Editor Simon Kelner’s disastrously misguided idea/phrase) content is now so low that we don’t even want it for free. As for the server space issue: well, it’s one the financial papers have been living with for years pretty successfully. And while the mainstream papers have many times the amount of material, most of that falls outside the kind of journalism we’re talking about here. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the legions of record reviewers, film critics, fashion photographers, cartoonists, satirists, gardening experts, need be involved. This is about the ‘A section’, and potentially health/society/business supplements. Anyone whose work could be classified as in the public interest, basically. I’m not asking for anyone’s jotted notes and doodles as they formed a view on One Direction’s latest. Please.

 

Update, 16/7/12
Sam Hardy, an archaeologist based in the UK and author of the excellent Conflict Antiquities blog, has questions about its application for independent journalists.

 

“I just saw your journalism post & thought of Neni Panourgia’s post-writing equivalent Dangerous Citizens (dangerouscitizens.columbia.edu). (Sadly) I’m not sure individual journos could get salary-level subscriptions; but maybe corporate-rate-subbed subject/area groups/newspapers could.”

 

MP: Dangerous Citizens is interesting! Yes, agree: individual journos couldn’t make salary from it. Thinking for that (& me) potentially it’d be a nice way to release lots of material on one subject, via LeanPub (?). (Or just set it free & have a hopeful donate button!)

 

SH [reply]: “Ah, yeah, that would be good. At the very least it could sub you… getting lost… on other assignments.”

 

See the exchange, and follow Sam on Twitter here.

 

Update, 17/7/12
Ben Adams, an Editor at Bloomsbury USA in New York (full disclosure: he published Outlaws Inc. in the US/Canada), offered his thoughts on how news sites might incorporate the research released into the way their pages are tagged and navigated.

 

“I enjoyed [your] vision of ‘open journalism’. I see how it would impact credibility, but is there money in it? Perhaps Google/Pulse/RSS etc. can be made to index notes and sources so that the best-reported articles rise to the top.”

 

Personally, I think this is a great idea, and could work – one can imagine it being a way to filter/rank content on index pages, or offer in the form of a homepage widget broadly similar to those for ‘Most shared’/’Most viewed’ by the BBC et al. In fact, I’d like to suggest that might be quite a good way to flag up the any motherlode of research documentation (as I propose in the main body) behind a paywall.

 

As for that paywall/answering the money question. What if the news itself were all free/in front of the paywall, but every hyperlink from the text of a news story through to research/documents took a micropayment to click? Thus each piece becomes something like Docstoc or an academic publishers’ model. Only instead of the abstract, it’s the article itself that draws eyeballs/search/shares through, and counts of a certain percentage of those visitors to micropurchase proofs for some of the assertions.

 

Again, the system would begin to reward not just great, well-written, important and timely articles, but would begin to reward financially well-researched and linked pieces too. And because all the links would be to assets held by the paper, there would be no conflict for the advertisers.

 

Update, 18/7/12
Annie Machon, former MI5 whistleblower turned journalist and speaker – and now UK co-ordinator for LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) added her thoughts last night, by email. 

 

“I very much enjoyed your post. Can I suggest, for extra layers, you have a watch of these two videos? The first, I would move beyond the usual spy bollocks (about 20 minutes) and watch the end; the second, look at the questions at the end. My views on manipulation of the media.

 

Annie’s views on this specific subject are interesting to me, for three reasons. One, as a former MI5 officer, her reports offer quite a close analogue to journalism. (They sold narratives along the line, based on thorough research and a watertight case.) Two, her career as an MI5 officer ended when she became a whistleblower – a similarly neat analogue for the way journalism liberates information. Three, as a vocal supporter of Wikileaks and employee of LEAP, she works on behalf of two organizations who are working to open up access to information/documentation/research, and hoping that the truth, as it were, will set man free. I’m looking at it from a different point of view. But I’m sure the idea of news organizations running their own ‘in-house Wikileaks’ – more-or-less open-information channels they can charge for – won’t be lost on anyone.

 

 

 

 

One thought on “A modest proposal: or, how to save journalism, make money and safeguard self-regulation… by killing content

  1. I’m a member of the editorial advisory board of my local paper. When asked for subjects for today’s meeting, I was laughed at when I suggested that we talk about ways of helping our paper survive. The response from the editor was for all of us to write more columns, which does help because we don’t get paid for our columns. But, on a serious note, I’d like to suggest some of your ideas. I will credit you. Is that OK?

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