Random Scribbles: Making economic sense out of online news

[Random Scribbles are my occasional posts of half-formed thoughts, half-baked ideas, and off-the-cuff observations.]

In his recent article “Build the Future: Journalism’s deathwatch is over” Jacob Weisberg of Slate.com discusses his vision of a sustainable future for digital news. This brief but informed review of the development of online news sites has, I think, some astute ideas on how this might work.

The end of the article has the most concrete points:

Slate is too dependent on advertising. So we’re trying to figure out how to get money from our readers, but without a paywall, because we like having a massive audience and fully participating in the digital conversation. Our latest experiment is a membership program called Slate Plus. Though we’re for-profit, it’s partly an NPR-style pitch: support the journalism you love. But it’s also like Amazon Prime: We’re thinking every day about what new benefits we can provide to our most loyal customers. The goal is to be thriving for another 18 years and beyond. The challenge is to think like a start-up while building an institution.

Last May, I shared my idea that news outlets should ask readers to pay to post comments, and interestingly enough was dismissed by many writers and editors. I still find the reaction odd, as if the ability to post comments for free is somehow a right that shall not be infringed.

In my view, when the ship (of journalism) is sinking, nothing should be sacred. So I’m interested in the ideas behind Weisberg’s Slate Plus, which could easily include the ability to post comments while locking out non-Slate Plus readers.

People who bash new ideas are not thinking “like a start-up.”

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