#DigitalLunch: Can digital journalism ever pay?

1pm (BST) today… join Slugger’s own #DigitalLunch #hangoutsonair with myself and Michael Wilson, MD of +UTV, as we discuss whether digital journalism can add value to the bottom of news organisations…

We’ll also be joined by +Kevin Anderson late of +The Guardian and the BBC London and America… And Una Murphy who is an independent producer… You can also pick it up over at YouTube: http://youtu.be/hG6A5-TjSgo

  • Mick.
    I know this is embracing new tech etc and is definetely worth giving a go but is it actually working?
    No offence, but you are a nice bloke. I’d rather watch a cantankerous ould fecker like FJH or Jude Collins having a go at each other or, god forbid, you.
    Now that would be worth tuning in for.
    Actually, could we schedule FJH vs Peter Baker? You could sell tickets. Do you see my point?

  • Sorry to harp on Mick but re-read the two paragraphs on the post.
    Full of in house Jargon, faux techie prefixes and Titles.
    Am I wrong?
    Major turn off for us hoi polloi

  • Bangordub,

    I agree – and I was in it!

    My favourite at the moment is ‘drilling down into granular detail, going forward…’, but leaving that aside, I took part, not because of the technology, but because I wanted to explore its potential to provide a platform for ideas and policy debate.

    I was able, from my desk at work, with coffee in hand, to interrogate two key UTV players (one behind the camera and one in front), alongside new colleagues and ask questions that I wanted to ask…

    Now, that opens up a wealth of democratic, egalitarian, enriching possibilities, or do we just leave it to the techies or worse, the traditional pugilists, so beloved of the populist media?

  • Lol Quentin,
    I have a pathological hatred of biz/tech spake!
    It’s just that the fact that we two are the only one’s debating this says everything.
    My essential point is that there is no point in a journalistic, in house debate. If that is what Slugger has become then it has lost its way in my humble opinion

  • Mick Fealty

    I’ll take that on the chin at this stage BD… Two years ago we have the NI Water story to bore you with through the summer… yet I was told yesterday (much as it p!ssed at lot of our regulars off) that that story had been Slugger’s finest hour…

    Even at this stage, I retain a lot of sympathy for the former Minister, having accrued a fair insight into the inner dynamics that were at play there…

    In this case, this is a proof of concept project… For goodness sake, today we were treated to story not about a mortar attack but an investigation into whether or not there was a mortar bomb attack…

    At a time when there is no real news, this is the time to experiment… I accept it was specialist, and that it will have gone over too many people’s heads, but I thought it top quality stuff (shame about the production values)…

    I have ideas about how this can get ramped out… I’d love to do a regular Statler and Waldorf slot with FJH and Turgon (if we could coax them and it would work)…

    But there’s a wealth of possibility around this… We just have to get much much much better at the production…. but this month I’m more than happy to take ideas and try them out…

    But you’ve got to start somewhere… I have say I have had some very positive feedback from some very good people in the business…

    Not all of what we do will end up on Slugger’s front page, at least in the early days… I just want to experiment and vary the approach and scale up the stuff that works both here and on google plus…

    All criticism is received with deep and grovelling gratitude… I want to keep steepening the learning curve… week on week…

  • andnowwhat

    The internet was a free gift to the world. The way I see it (as someone who was on it when it was such a free space), you’re a guest of the web and it owes you nothing.

    We were here first

  • What is “digital journalism” anyway and why do people make such a sharp distinction between it and what came before?

    The mechanism and medium of the message may be changing but not the message itself. Instead of one-dimensional print journalism we will have multi-dimensional online journalism, articles and reports with hyperlinks to related stories or background pieces, pop-up boxes giving explanatory historical, geographical, cultural or other information, embedded videos and audio recordings, interactive commentary and reporting contributions from readers, etc.

    The main worry for the news media seems to be the revenue question. How are we going to pay for it (or keep ourselves in jobs)? But print publishers had the same worries about e-publishing and they are slowly adapting and finding ways of making it work.

    The same will happen for digital news media. Advertising, mixed subscriptions, communal ownership and trusts, serving niche markets, etc.

    Look to the success stories in the media world, the FT, et al, not the failures.

    If my lowly, practically invisible blog can make 21 cents every week from advertising, and that is just one buachaill with an opinionated keyboard, then surely a proven online big brand name like the Guardian can come up with a sustainable model earning in the hundreds of thousands?

  • Alias

    Mick, given that I only watched the 11 minutes (no reflection on what was an interesting discussion but for the same reason this will be a short poet), this post can be ignored if its issue was addressed later.

    The question of how to add value, as opposed to profit, to what is essentially a product as opposed to a public service seemed to be viewed as a question that was to be answered by journalists as opposed to customers of that product. This is a poor research method for a researcher…

    Secondly, focusing on the profit as opposed to the product, isn’t the real money to be made in devising a means by which customers can pay for the product? If for example, a reader of a newspaper wanted to click on a link that said “Mick Fealty gives his opinion on this story here: Cost per play: 0.40”, how could someone who is not an online subscriber to that newspaper pay for that access play without going through the rigmarole of registering for each online newspaper he reads and without exposing his credit card details to more online retailers than he would like? It seems to me that you’d have to sort out a means by which the customers can pay for that service before you can seriously consider offering it. Perhaps the media organisations and others who deliver online content (or want to) should band together to form some sort of debit service (Pay by MediaPay, for example) where the user loads credit to the card (or simply an ID) and then uses it to pay the small (or large) amounts as needed, with no credit card charges added and no messing around with a plethora of subscriptions, etc.

  • Mick Fealty


    I would clip to hear what Kevin had to say on that, particularly in regard to the experimentation currently being conducted by the Guardian…

    His criticism of a paper that he both loves and has work for is that the business model is not as creative as the journalism itself…

    You do a pretty classy piece of work (not all of which I agree with, but I see the craft with which it is done)… but you, like me, do not incur costs that a major news organisation inevitably will in producing news and current affairs…

    I have some strong feelings in favour of the industry in this regard…

    if you want the capacity to speak proper truth (ie not just just hostile FOIs lodged by one pol agin another), but the whole wider picture you need the means not just to do it once, but to keep on finding stuff out…

    I think we, and Jamie Delargy and Sam McBride did some exceptionally good work on NIWater… None of us got the recognition I suspect we deserved in uncovering the hidden politics of Stormont…

    And this matters… if you go against the establishment, you can expect to take a hit…

    In reality though, you need a business model that will allow you to do keep doing powerful investigative work over time, not just living on old laurels of ‘one big scoop’ back in the day…

    I’ve had to do other, non production work to keep Slugger afloat… advertising pays for the production costs (modest as they still remain), not time nor wages…

    Unlocking sustainable business models to maintain genuinely independent journalism remain the grail of new journalism… the rest is largely BS…

  • Mister_Joe

    …I just want to experiment..

    And that’s the way to go, Mick. Great on you for trying.

    As to the subject itself, I can’t see any option other than offering it free and, just like the print media, rely on advertising for their main income. It took the music industry a lot of years before coming up with a paying business model. News media are just going to have to experiment, like you.

  • Alias

    I think my idea of a ‘MediaPay’ debit facility for very small amounts is key to how that ‘value’ can be converted into capital – and, indeed, added consistently and with quality by producers at all.

    It overcomes the problem of consumers not wanting to register on individual sites to download extra content (that they might only have become interested in via casual browsing anyway). The backend for such payment processing would be modest if the facility was pre-paid to a guaranteed maximum that reduced the prospect of fraud and was confined for use to small transactions. The transaction should also be as easy for the cumsumer as entering his authorisation code,

    While those transactions will be small, the 50c here and the euro there will add up to a profitable revenue stream with the low cost of producing the extra content.

    Without finding a way to enable the consumer of the product to pay for it, it doesn’t matter if the consumer wants it or not. There is also no point in producers (journalists) asking each other what the consumer wants and not bothering to ask the consumer. That’s a good way to loss money for your employer.

    Now if I only knew a damn thing about software development, I wouldn’t be posting it here!

  • join Slugger’s own #DigitalLunch #hangoutsonair with myself and Michael Wilson, MD of +UTV, as we discuss whether digital journalism can add value to the bottom of news organisations…

    You are asking completely the wrong question there, Mick, whenever one is pioneering virgin markets and supplying lead to systems at the fronts which would be drivering the freight train that would be a provisional internet/world wide webs of really smart advanced intelligence networkings ….SMARTR IntelAIgents Networking.

    The question[s] which traditional news reporting media is loathe to ask, because of the implications which are then realised in its/their asking, is whether news organisations can add value to the top tiers of virtual space/digital journalism, or whether they will choose and continue to battle in vain against the new media tide in order to try and lead and influence/brainwash the masses with old establishment news and ideas which are already out of date and out of touch with the New Wave and ITs Future Savvy Internetional Networkers by the time that it is aired/viewed/shared in places on Earth?

    And let it be known that those whom you suppose are providing leadership to the province from the highest positions and offices held and appointed to in Stormont, have been advised on the changed paradigm. And the unity of their response would belie all of those notions pimped by media that there is unbridgeable division and disunity of common great purpose in the house on the hill. More anon as more is revealed of their leading initiatives with further detailed information on shared future initiatives programs and projects.

    And there y’all were, probably thinking that in their jolly hols they were all lying on beach in some exotic location doing next to nothing worthwhile and ground breaking, and just spending taxpayers’ money with no thought of how to repay it with the provision of great public service.

  • aquifer

    I will run through some stuff that people pay for to look for clues.

    People subscribe to different packages of TV channels
    People pay to associate with like-minded others
    Legal and other professionals pay a lot for access to well indexed hard information.
    People pay Quentin to lobby for them effectively
    People pay for photos after peeking at them
    People pay consultants and want the best, but may pay top rate for something ordinary, or nothing to somebody who did a great job.
    People pay for credit ratings (Credo – I believe)

    Then there are the success stories:
    Google becoming the defacto search engine and becoming very hard to catch up with
    Facebook levering personal association into profit
    BBC levering their resources to also dominate online

    The capacity of the internet will always tend to approach infinity, so there is revenue in helping people find stuff – or in helping people disclose stuff?

    Can you find a way to index context for them?

    e.g. A map with layers of meaning? issue blogs?

    And a way to rate truthfullness? Would people pay to be rated by you, or you and similar others?

    Media titles are ratings agencies with a fat overhead.

  • aquifer

    Can you set up a system to trade content?

    Disclosure and insight offered and the donor rated after receipt, within a subscription-based system? The ‘reward’ temporary elevation to a better level of access?

    Anonymous disclosure could be more credible if there were no money in it.

  • My sister and her friends used to play a game called “wee shop”. They raided their parents houses for empty boxes and then spent the entire summer shopping for “20 Gallahers Greens” and a box of Persil……..from each other.
    Everybody was a consumer. Everybody was a seller.
    And essentially that is the dilemna of a digital media that pays.
    The answer is probably “yes” for amateurs and “no” for professionals. Simply put Id be delighted if the Huffington Post gave me £20 for something. It would be a Dominos Pizza without even waiting for two for one on Tuesday night. But a professional journo cant live on Dominos Pizza.
    One of the interesting things about Leveson evidence has been the competition for shift work at newspapers. Press Journalism doesnt seem to pay either.

    There is a crude parallel here. No greengrocer can sell strawberries if a market gardener is just giving strawberries away. So how realistically can any Blogger hope to make real money out of “Digital Journalism” if millions are prepared to do it for free?
    The campaign to make Digital Journalism pay is therefore not led by millions of bloggers. It is a professional group of people……media owners and journalists (seemingly exploited by the big media companies) re-trenching. And even they have a different agenda.
    Blogging is essentially a form of Anarchy.
    And the campaign/debate cant reach any satisfactory conclusion without harnessing the anarchy. And the Anarchy does not want to be harnessed.
    At one level “purist” bloggers would be against this in principle while “realistic” bloggers would know that there is no way they can get any money from blogging except to get hold of a photograph of a lifetime.

    Realistically independent bloggers are a jealous, bad-hearted breed. Well I can only speak for myself. And actually assisting our betters to do well out of the Internet is hardly in our interests.

  • John Ó Néill

    I’m stuck on this as a variant of what the media is and who should fund it – if you look at the funding models then commercial revenues are not able to rely on subscription (or pay as you view or whatever) as the technology means you can switch platform and get it free elsewhere. So advertising (and advertisers) fund it, which can mean their values can commandeer the focus of media and dictate the state of public discourse. Depending on what you call democracy, that is problematic. Some level of public support might be promoted to support de-commercialised debate (if you value that over the dubious freedom of the ‘market’).

  • Theres a part of “Revolution” where the first generation revolutionaries and the remnants of the old regime attempt to make peace with each other……their common enemy being the folks who are still involved in the revolution.
    I am not actually sure that a business case can be made for “digital media” that pays when so much is free.
    There is a good business case for setting up a strip club in a buttoned up society.
    But if Society is a giant nudist colony, nobody could make a business case for a strip club.

  • Alias

    “Depending on what you call democracy, that is problematic.”

    What could be more democratic than the consumer making a free choice to pay for it? Advertisers do not promote political propaganda, whereas governments do. Therefore, so-called ‘public service’ funding for media is simply the State determining which media it supports according to which messages it promotes. State funding is the most undemocratic option available for the media.

    “I am not actually sure that a business case can be made for “digital media” that pays when so much is free.”

    That’s where the ‘value’ comes into it, and how producers can add it. There is plenty of free medical, legal, and other opinion available for free on the Internet but most folks still pay to ask an expert for such advice because some opinion has a greater value than others. The more crap there is for free, the more folks will turn to actual experts – and pay them. There is likely to be a big difference in the quality of the reply between asking Yoko Ono to explain some quirk of Westminster to you and asking Brian Walker to explain it. The latter might be worth .049p to you but the former is worthless.

  • Alias

    Apology to Mr Walker for adding that extra zero as a typo. A reply from him would of course be worth more!

  • Framer

    Aquifer alluded to it and I know it is unsayable and largely unthinkable but while the BBC licence fee exists newspapers will die in droves.
    The Beeb is a monopoly provider which not only does not know it is a monopoly, thinking itself inherently good and above the commercial fray but purchase of whose product is enforceable by threat of prison.
    Beware of the coming months after the Olympics when its web presence will increase drastically due to the heavy traffic of the games.

  • @Mick,

    Thanks for the kind words they are actually very much much appreciated.

    While I agree with some of the points made by FJH, I’m not sure how long the nudist colony will last. “Corporate” seems determined to harness the internet the same way it eventually harnessed print.

    The free wheeling anarchism of the present world wide web in some ways replicates the anarchism of Europe when the printing press became widely available and church and state went into a panic. Without the dissemination of the “print net” we (arguably) wouldn’t have had the Reformation, Democracy (as we know it), etc.

    Some of today’s political or cultural bloggers are simply the pamphleteers of yesterday in a new form.

    I suspect that in time much of the mainstream world wide web will be brought under state and corporate control, and in the case of the latter they will effectively “monetise” it.

    How long will it be before online media companies also become partners in the supply of your internet service too, and derive revenue from that?

    It is only a matter of time until someone in the BBC decides that an internet connection is a civil right and who better to oversee and safeguard that than Aunty Beeb? That is an argument already being made in several European nations by public service broadcasters.

    UTV is an internet service provider and program maker. That may well evolve and become a single product in the future (if UTV survives the next decade or two – a debatable point).

    Will the Guardian Media Group go down a similar route tied in to other corporate partners?

    My own take is that eventually we will have the internet age equivalent of the independent press, of publishers, pamphleteers, fanzines, party newspapers or whatever. But they, as now, will not be at the centre of the market.

    The digital media will find new means of paying for their keep. And it should be pointed out that very few journos actually became rich in the so-called Golden Age doing the work they do. The Rusbridgers and Dacres are few and far between (and grossly overpaid for what they actually do). It was the publishers that made the money and they will do so again. Once they get the centre of the market under some sort of revenue-generating control. And we all know that will happen when they get the governments onboard.

    For independent sites could this be one avenue of funding? Raidió na Life operates under community ownership, a non-profit co-operative with everyone buying a share in it which contributes towards its running. This is then added to commercial sponsorship and advertising.

    For national or global news sites it may not work but for the hyperlocal?