Apple is primed and ready to announce their new paid news and television subscription(s?) next week at a media event. There have been a flurry of reports on publishers joining the service, including The Wall Street Journal and Vox. The big question surrounding the offering is the economics. For magazine publishers, sacrificing huge royalties to Apple may be worth it to increase readership. For news publishers, the upside may be harder to see.
In the Internet comments section, there’s a different discussion. We continue to transition to a subscription economy, and in an era of “free” news, many question whether or not people are willing to pay. To quote one commentator, “Why would I pay for news in 2019?”
That’s an interesting question.
For many months, I’ve used The Wall Street Journal as my sole source of news, along with two local news organizations. I don’t watch local or cable news broadcasts, but I do read reports put out by my local paper and also by my local NBC affiliate. That represents the sum total of my news consumption, about 90 minutes each day.
My wife reads from a wider range of sources, to include the BBC and Reuters. She will send me articles of interest to read from time to time. What I find remarkable is the difference in editorial standards and what news products flow from them.
In the time since I moved exclusively to the WSJ, I have rarely read articles about entertainment scandals (save for those surrounding Jeff Bezos), conspiracy stories, or anything truly bizzare. The Journal has a very specific readership, but even when reporting outside of business news, only the highest quality stories make it in front of my eyes. I pay handsomely for the service, but in a way, the editorial process recognizes that I have limited time and so only the most important, best researched stories will make it to print.
All news, paid and unpaid, is ad-supported. I know that the Journal has extensive web trackers and an internet & print ad program that targets me when I’m reading the stories. But what I’ve found is that paying for news results in a higher quality product. Gone are the clickbate headlines and salacious gossip.
So why pay for news? In a word, professionalism. It used to drive me insane that next to hard news on the Fox News website was celebrity sex scandals and bikini pictures. We want high quality, professional journalists to spend their days chasing the big stories, developing sources, and bringing to us the information that we need to function as a society. If we refuse to pay for quality journalism, we will all suffer the consequences.