Better, less read, and less trusted

“As paywalls get firmer, total audiences may decline. It’s quality news, but not for everyone. Given their current funding guidelines, foundations are part of the same problem, not the antidote.”

Increasing subscription revenues will free some of our best national media from dependence on mass audience advertising. But at what cost?

For decades, media critics have lamented American journalism’s over-reliance on advertising and pointed to Europe’s reader-funded press as the better alternative. Less than a decade ago, American newspapers on average depended on advertising for more than 80 percent of their revenues. Since then, many newspapers have moved closer to a 50-50 proposition, and The New York Times now earns more than 60 percent of its revenues from subscriptions. In early December, the Times doubled-down on this approach by reducing the number of monthly free articles available to non-subscribers from 10 to 5.

The upside of the subscription model is that readers are only going to shell out money for something they really want or need. This puts a premium on the highest quality journalism. Indeed, some of the world’s best commercial media are audience rather than advertiser supported. For example, in France, 130,000 monthly subscribers are the sole support for Mediapart’s outstanding investigative reporting.

The downside is that readers who pay premium prices may also come to equate quality journalism with news that reinforces their deeply held beliefs, creating pressures for a news organization to hew to a consistent political line — likely liberal, given the partisan leanings of most heavy news consumers.

Another downside is that subscriber-oriented news caters to high-income, high-education elites. As paywalls get firmer, total audiences may decline. It’s quality news, but not for everyone. Given their current funding guidelines, foundations are part of the same problem, not the antidote.

We should not be surprised that the majority of Americans left outside of this supposedly virtuous circle will come to feel even more alienated and distrustful of media that exclude them.

Meanwhile, while liberal media draw their circles ever tighter around themselves, conservatives are fighting to extend their mass reach: Witness Rupert Murdoch’s push to create advertising networks that will challenge those of Facebook and Google, or Sinclair’s takeover of local television news — still the major news source for most Americans.

What’s missing in the U.S. is what always exists alongside Western Europe’s reader-supported press: taxpayer-supported public service broadcasting — think BBC in England, ARD in Germany, or SVT in Sweden. Large-scale public media ensure that every citizen is exposed to high quality media content, raising the overall level of public knowledge. America’s underfunded and politically pressured PBS and NPR are simply not up to the job.

In short: The only way to avoid the democratic death spiral I’ve described above is to give up the illusion that there is a purely commercial solution to American journalism’s civic crisis.

Rodney Benson is professor of media, culture, and communication at New York University.

Mario García   Storytelling finally adapts to mobile

Debra Adams Simmons   And a woman shall lead them

Will Sommer   The year local media gets conservative

L. Gordon Crovitz   Serving readers over advertisers

Michael Kuntz   The only pivot that might work

Damon Krukowski   Reviving the alt-weekly soul

Andrew Haeg   The year journalists become relationship builders

Jared Newman   Venture funding and digital news don’t mix

Corey Ford   The empire strikes back

Nicholas Quah   Stop talking trash about young people

Mi-Ai Parrish   Blockchain and trust

Carrie Brown-Smith   Transparency finally takes off

Amie Ferris-Rotman   More female reporters abroad (please)

Tanzina Vega   It’s time for media companies to #PassTheMic

Dan Newman   A return to trust

Monika Bauerlein   The firehose of falsehood

Mira Lowe   The year of the local watchdog

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Publishing less to give readers more

Amy Webb   Listen to weak signals

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Fortifying social media from automated inauthenticity

Mary Meehan   Real lives are at stake in rural areas

Paul Ford   Go global

Imaeyen Ibanga   Longform video leads the way

Kyle Ellis   Let’s build our way out of this

Rachel Davis Mersey   AI, with real smarts

Jesse Holcomb   Information disorder, coming to a congressional district near you

Daniel Trielli   The rich get richer, the poor scramble

Alastair Coote   The year of self-improvement

David Skok   Finding an information-life balance

Nathalie Malinarich   Peak push

Hossein Derakhshan   Television has won

Mary Walter-Brown   Show a little vulnerability

Rubina Madan Fillion   Unlocking the potential of AI

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   Women of color will reclaim and monetize our time

Andrew Ramsammy   The year ownership mattered

Federica Cherubini   The rise of bridge roles in news organizations

Jim Brady   With the people, not just of the people

Kelsey Proud   No, no, no

S. Mitra Kalita   The arc of news and audience

Kathleen McElroy   Building a news video experience native to mobile

Charo Henríquez   Training is an investment, not an expense

Amy King   Let’s amplify visual voice

Ray Soto   VR reaches the next level

Mandy Velez   texting is lit rn, fam

Mike Caulfield   Refactoring media literacy for the networked age

Mariana Moura Santos   Think local, act global

Raju Narisetti   Mirror, mirror on the wall

Lanre Akinola   Making noise is not a strategy

Felix Salmon   Covering bitcoin while owning bitcoin

Tanya Cordrey   Finally, the seeds of radical reinvention

Pia Frey   Address users as individuals

Adam Thomas   Sharing is caring: The year of the mentor

Elizabeth Jensen   Show your work

Matt Carlson   Attacks on the press will get worse

Raney Aronson-Rath   Transparency is the antidote to fake news

Nikki Usher   The year of The Washington Post

Caitria O'Neill   The new court of public opinion

Sam Ford   The year of investing in processes

Cory Haik   Suffering from realness, pivoting to impact

Manoush Zomorodi   Self-help as a publishing strategy

Lam Thuy Vo   Breaking free from the tyranny of the loudest

Matt Boggie   The intellectual equivalent of the Dead Sea

Justin Kosslyn   The year journalists become digital security experts

John Keefe   Scooped by AI

Sara M. Watson   Feeds will open up to new user-determined filters

Doris Truong   Computer vision vs. the Internet vigilantes

Carlos Martínez de la Serna   The new journalism commons

Francesco Marconi   The year of machine-to-machine journalism

Heather Bryant   Building the ecosystems for collaboration

Burt Herman   Things get real

Caitlin Thompson   Podcasting models mature and diversify

Trushar Barot   The Jio-fication of India

Jake Levine   The return to now

Molly de Aguiar   Good journalism won’t be enough

Kim Fox   Audience teams diversify their approach

Aron Pilhofer   We can’t leave the business to the business side any more

Ruth Palmer   Risks will grow for news subjects — especially minorities

Michelle Ferrier   The year of the great reckoning

Almar Latour   Conquering calm

Kristen Muller   The year of the voter

Eric Ulken   The year local publishers get smart(er) about change

Laura E. Davis   Writing answers before you know the question

Juliette De Maeyer   A responsible press criticism

Claire Wardle   Disinformation gets worse

Dan Shanoff   You down with OTT? (Yeah, DTC)

Michelle Garcia   Navigating journalistic transparency

Sydette Harry   Listen to your corner and watch for the hook

Craig Newmark   Working together toward sustainable solutions

Sarah Marshall   Loyalty as the key performance indicator

Tracie Powell   The muting of underserved voices

Alice Antheaume   Are you fluent in AI?

Lucas Graves   From algorithms to institutions

Rachel Schallom   Better design helps differentiate opinion and news

Christopher Meighan   Passive partnership is in the rearview

Feli Sánchez   The year for guerrilla user research

Jennifer Coogan   The future is female

Vivian Schiller   Pivot to tomorrow

Millie Tran and Stine Bauer Dahlberg   (Hint: It’s about your brand)

Alexios Mantzarlis   Moving fake news research out of the lab

Yvonne Leow   The rise of video messaging

Renée Kaplan   The year of quiet adjustments (shhh)

Cindy Royal   Your journalism curriculum is obsolete

Alfred Hermida   Going beyond mobile-first

C.W. Anderson   The social media apocalypse

Kawandeep Virdee   Zines had it right all along

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   Skepticism and narcissism

Emma Carew Grovum   Newsroom culture becomes a priority

Cristina Wilson   The year of the Instagram Story

P. Kim Bui   The reckoning is only beginning

Joanne McNeil   Gatekeeping the gatekeepers

Borja Echevarría   TV goes digital, digital goes TV

Jim Moroney   Newspapers have to be good enough for readers to pay for

Joyce Barnathan   It will be harder to bury the news

Sue Schardt   Jump the niche

Rodney Gibbs   Tech workers turn to journalism

Basile Simon   We need better career paths for news nerds

Joanne Lipman   Journalists inventing revenue streams

Edward Roussel   Eyes, ears, and brains

José Zamora   Revenue-first journalism

Dannagal G. Young   Stop covering politics as a game

Nancy Watzman   Know thy TV

Susie Banikarim   R.I.P. Pivot to Video (2017–2017)

Andrew Losowsky   The year of resilience

Helen Havlak   Keywords, not publishers, power the world’s biggest feeds

Bill Keller   A growing turn to philanthropy

Julia Beizer   A longer view on the pivot

Ståle Grut   Reclaiming audience interaction from social networks

Zizi Papacharissi   Women come back

Tamar Charney   We get serious about algorithms

Monique Judge   Letting black women tell their own stories

Kinsey Wilson   Facebook and Google: Help out or pay up

Niketa Patel   Live journalism comes of age

Jacqui Cheng   Retailers move into content

Vanessa K. DeLuca   Women’s voices take center stage

Umbreen Bhatti   The trust problem isn’t new

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Seeking trust in fragmented spaces

Brian Lam   Sketchy ethics around product reviews

Alan Soon   The rise of start of psychographic, micro-targeted media

Rodney Benson   Better, less read, and less trusted

Jassim Ahmad   Thriving on change

Taylor Lorenz   Social and media will split

Nushin Rashidian   Publishers seek ad dollar alternatives

Matt DeRienzo   A recession, then a collapse

Ariana Tobin   Too tired to tap

Matt Thompson   Here come the attention managers

Sam Sanders   Shine the light on ourselves

Rick Berke   Value is the watchword

Evie Nagy   Pivot to mobile video frustration

Steve Grove   The midterms are an opportunity

Mariano Blejman   News games rule

Dheerja Kaur   Fun with subscription products

Jamie Mottram   From pageviews to t-shirts

Pablo Boczkowski   The rise of skeptical reading

Usha Sahay   Wallets get opened

Jennifer Choi   Standing up for us and for each other

Jessica Parker Gilbert   Design connects storytelling and strategy

Eric Nuzum   Beyond the narrative arc

Emily Goligoski   Looking beyond news for inspiration

Hannah Cassius   The year of the echo-chamber escapists

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   The Snapchat scenario and the risk of more closed platforms

Richard J. Tofel   The platforms’ power demands more reporters’ attention

Pete Brown   Push alerts, personalized

Julia B. Chan   Looking for loyalty in all the right places

Frédéric Filloux   External forces

Jennifer Brandel and Mónica Guzmán   The editorial meeting of the future

Sally Lehrman   Trust comes first

Jarrod Dicker   Honesty in advertising

Marcela Donini and Thiago Herdy   Collaboration is the way forward for Brazilian journalism

An Xiao Mina   Memes and visuals come to the fore

Miguel Castro   The arrival of the impact producer

Corey Johnson   The pro-fact resistance

Neha Gandhi   Filler killers

Tim Carmody   Watch out for Spotify

Luke O'Neil   The end is already here

Marie Gilot   No assholes allowed

Errin Haines Whack   At the ballot, it’s time to count black women

http://pillsbank.net