Newspapers, Pay Walls and ‘the Future of News’

Picture 207There are lots of experiments going on with news reporting and online news. Among the most interesting is non-profit investigative journalism project Pro Publica. But the SF Bay Area News Project recently announced may be another model. Also a non-profit (I believe), it represents an online collaboration among the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, the Hellman Family Foundation and SF public radio station KQED. The Hellman foundation is providing $5 million in seed funding. The NY Times may also be involved in some way. The site will formally launch in 2010.

These are serious traditional journalism efforts. On the other end of the spectrum are the efforts of (an SF newspaper turned national online network). There much of the content comes from users and quasi-professional writers and it’s very very uneven in terms of quality. Then there’s the new national push from San Diego News Network’s Neil Senturia. These two are representative of new national news networks that seek to compete with established, traditional media and online-only local news and content sites such as Topix.

Meanwhile the NAA has reported that the print newspaper circulation slide has slowed or stopped. (MediaPost has more detail.) As news organizations look to circulation revenues to make up for ad losses, large numbers of newspapers are going to erect pay walls either this year or early next year. But free and non-profit news sites such as the Bay Area News Project (which will probably be free) will likely thwart the success of those efforts, unless they’re especially clever and thoughtful.

News remains hugely popular and one of the most popular and long-lived mobile app categories. But the issues now playing out revolve around content creation and the business model to support it.

One “X variable” in the newspaper world is the rise of the media tablets and how they’ll affect news consumption and paid content. There’s an absolute frenzy of speculation and rumor-reporting going on around Apple’s allegedly forthcoming tablet and there are at least 10 competitive offerings already in the market — or coming — including the Kindle.

Readers might be willing to pay for an “all access pass” that provides some value-added features or content and ensures one could get a publication on all the platforms desired: print, online, mobile. Micropayments ain’t gonna fly. But we’ll see.

Even as traditional newspapers and news reporting are suffering, this is also an exciting and creative time that will see the birth of new hybrid models going forward.


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