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Revenue the key to quality online journalism

With the pace of digital change, newsrooms need to focus on business models that can generate profit while simultaneously providing reliable and trustworthy content, says a digital agency expert.

The Director and Principal of The Digital Skills Agency, Corinne Podger, said having a paywall subscription for newspapers is a strategy that allows the business to thrive. 

“But also good journalists costs money,” she said. 

“I think this is a message that our industry needs to be consistent on with the audience. 

"If you need to know what’s going on and someone is going to ask not just one person, but both sides, and put in that time to give you that story that you read in five minutes, but took three hours to get that information, that person needs to be paid, otherwise you can’t get that information. 

"Everything then will just be public relations and advertising.” 

Ms. Podger said whether it’s print or online, media industries need to monetise their content by whichever method they choose:

“The Financial Times in London charges digital subscription and it’s making money out of doing that. 

"It also has a print edition. 

“I know some have stopped production, some have had to close because they weren’t able to find a business model quickly enough to stay in business. 

“And I think what we need to take away from that is maybe our industry is moving a bit slow to look at what are the options that would work for us, our audience size, our audience’s ability to pay.” 

In order to sustain print media, businesses need create new products that reach all its audiences, she said:

“If we don’t, then yes of course newspapers will shut down. 

"If you can’t attract the same amount of advertising that you used to, and you don’t replace that revenue with something else, you’ll go out of business.” 

Ms. Podger said having the number of subscribers also impacts the business model, especially if newspapers opt for a premium model. 

“If you are trying to bring people on to have the premium model where some articles are free that model can work; it can be difficult if you don’t have a big enough audience, you have to have constant content that draws interest to make it painful not to subscribe. 

“We are talking business about the paying point and that’ the moment we will have to make a purchasing decision. 

"So if I really want to know what’s going on in Samoa and the Samoa Observer is the place to find that out, I have to some point to make a decision to pay. 

“You also need to think about what you’re charging. 

"One, you may not be able to match the advertising revenue, so you might need other sources of income. You also need to think about your client’s ability to pay. If they can’t afford a high price that means that gap is a bit bigger so how are you going to fill that. So that may mean coming up with a new product that you may need to sell to a new audience.” 

Ms. Podger said the two most obvious challenges with the digital change is connectivity in remote areas and the cost of data, which are expensive in most countries. 

She added that the size of a newsroom doesn’t matter if the staff members are multi-skilled. 

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