Posted by: Ciaran | December 1, 2009

More than just a headline

Barriers to information

I’m yet to be disabused of my notion that paywalls are no good thing for the future of journalism.  As I contended in this debate with my CJS colleague Caroline Cook, I think that as soon as you start to put content behind barriers, people will just look elsewhere for it: and that often means looking in the wrong places.

And that was a point raised by Robert Andrews, Editor of Paid Content UK, when he spoke to us last Thursday.  He said charging for online content was like “putting the genie back in the bottle”: when newspapers have been giving away their content for free on the internet for the last decade or more, it suddenly feels very unnatural to have to pay to read articles online.

Robert pointed out this survey commissioned by PCUK which showed only five per cent of respondents would pay to read news online.  The 74 per cent who said they would find another free site are the ones I’m worried about.

Quality or quantity?

The ongoing evolution of news aggregation, social media and user-generated content means that news sources are now more accessible than ever.  But while quantity may be enjoying an upward trajectory, I’m not sure quality is.

Take, for example, the story of Tiger Woods having a fairly minor car crash outside his home last Friday.  I had TweetDeck open at the time, and there was an unstinting stream of increasingly far-fetched stories coming through.

Most people were ready to write him off as dead purely on the basis of a few tweets and links to speculative stories.  I, on the other hand, was not alone in being more sceptical about the whole affair; I immediately noticed, for instance, the time delay between the crash happening and the story breaking.

Had there been a real story, it would have been everywhere within minutes.  On the night Michael Jackson died, TMZ were breaking the story at almost the exact moment the ambulance was reversing off the drive of the star’s Beverly Hills mansion.

Every headline tells a story?

But people love to believe the hype, and a lot of it is down to the disposable attitude which is increasingly being taken towards news in the digital age.  Robert showed us this statistic from the survey, showing that eight per cent of people would only read the free headlines if their favourite news site began charging.

Since when was a headline enough to tell a story?  Unfortunately, people are often so time-poor nowadays that I think a headline is often all they see of an article.  Paywalls could push us towards a situation where more and more people are relying either on news or unregulated websites for their news and, whilst I’m all in favour of citizen journalism and social media, the prospect of mass misinformation terrifies me.

I’m not dismissing the work of the thousands of great bloggers whose news, especially their hyper-local content, is as good if not better than that of many local newspapers (check out the excellent Lichfield Blog for example).  Similarly, there are sites like Help Me Investigate which are using collaborative projects to great effect.

I am not, I hope, sticking my head in the sand, as Adam Tinworth’s great post on paywalls would perhaps contend.  I am instead arguing for a future where there is still a choice in news journalism; a choice, at least, greater than reading a headline.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. […] More than just a headline « Thank the monkey "Since when was a headline enough to tell a story? Unfortunately, people are often so time-poor nowadays that I think a headline is often all they see of an article. Paywalls could push us towards a situation where more and more people are relying either on news or unregulated websites for their news and, whilst I’m all in favour of citizen journalism and social media, the prospect of mass misinformation terrifies me". (tags: paywall journalism) […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: