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Journalism Worth Paying For


A team of seven New York Times journalists published a special report last week articulating the vision for the publication for 2020, entitled “Journalism That Stands Apart.” The report underlines the emphasis on the digital nature of news, under the principle of “a subscription-first business.” Then it looks into what the paper should do to gain more subscribers when news are free on the Internet.

The report details all the New York Times has gained since implementing its paywall in 2011. A chart shows how subscription income equaled revenue from advertising the same year and then overtook it, growing every year since, while advertising declined matching the rest of the industry. The company is listed, so the information can be verified. The Times today has more than 1.5 million subscribers who only pay for the digital version. Another million subscribers get the print paper. Both coexis. What’s the formula?

Somewhat unexpectedly, the print version is the blueprint. The Times created the “print hub” to coordinate which part of all the available income would reach the paper’s print version. It turned out that this operation, quite small and efficient, enabled innovation. While coordinating the print version is the only process at other newspapers, The Times seems to have been able to take a step back to see what lessons are valid for the digital world. The report breaks them down into three sections: content, personal and processes.

First comes news worth paying for. The Times produces a daily average of 200 pieces. The least read ones are the standard fare: pure text, little added value, no images, and the same you would find in other papers. Often they don’t  de 200 notas. Las menos leídas son las “reglamentarias”: puro texto, con poco valor agregado, sin imágenes e iguales a las de otros medios. “They frequently do not clear the bar of journalism worth paying for, because similar versions are available free elsewhere,” the report says. To achieve that, format matters a lot: that is, devoting the same effort as for the rest of the journalistic work. Photographers, videographers and designers are also journalists.

The goal is that each story be “so much better than the competition’s coverage… that we can plausibly ask readers to pay for our own.” The report adds: “distinctive journalism, in a comfortable form, that expands their understanding of the world and helps them navigate it.” The conclusion: “We must act with urgency.”

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