Digital audiences will, and do, pay for news. But there are other problems.
“We all pay for the news we get, whether this is through subscriptions to newspapers or, in the case of the ABC, via our taxes,” said Jon Burton, who is in charge of the Herald Sun‘s mobile site and iPad app.
“The larger issue is that we all have our own interests when it comes to news. This means we value certain types of content above others.”
Mr Burton was joined on the panel by ninemsn editor-in-chief, Hal Crawford, and freelance journalist and editor-at-large for The Australian Financial Review, Pamela Williams. Andrew Dodd, the convenor of Swinburne University’s journalism program, chaired the hour-long session.
The question of paying for content online comes just weeks after Australia’s two major media empires – News Corp Australia and Fairfax Media – added paywalls to their digital and mobile-site offerings.
But ninemsn’s Hal Crawford said paywalls were an inconvenience for readers.
“Paywalls and ‘freemium’ models frustrate the public because they have to remember passwords and supply credit card details,” he said.
“On this basis alone, ninemsn will always be free to access. We will never introduce a paywall.”
But the AFR’s Pamela Williams disagreed and said paywalls were essential to addressing one of the core issues facing journalists today: financing the production of news.
“If no one pays for news, who will pay for the journalism that fuels television, radio and online [media]?” she asked.
Ms Williams said she looked to the New York Times as a global leader in financing journalism.
“The New York Times is a brand that people trust and believe in. That newspaper also takes pride in the fact that it publishes almost no content from the wire services.
“How do they do this? They use a paywall to fund their journalism.”
The panellists also disagreed on the issue of subscriptions.
News Corp’s Mr Burton said their subscription model, introduced in June, let the audience decide the value of the Herald Sun‘s news.
“Our audiences are allowed to view five free articles per week. When they reach this limit they are asked to register a News Plus account. This gives them access to a further ten articles of interest. If they reach this limit they are, not unfairly, asked to subscribe.”
But ninemsn’s Mr Crawford felt subscriptions were just a way of collecting data from users to sell on to advertisers.
“The more information media organisations hold on their readers, the more targeted the advertisements will become,” he said.
But Mr Burton said user data went beyond this and helped the Herald Sun work out what stories and content their readers were interested in.
“If we don’t know the type of content our audiences like to read, we would have nothing to sell to them,” he said.
“The issue of data collection is really trivial. It’s all about getting our readers immersed in quality journalism that matters to them.”
The New News Conference runs from Friday 30 August to Saturday 31 August at various venues around Melbourne.