Exploring new experiments in journalism: Newsday paywall fails, while Spot.us lets readers decide what news to pay for

After months of speculation about new paywalls on the Internet, we are starting to get some picture of how paywalls are working out. Put simply, paywalls have not proven to be a successful model yet, and their application beyond a select few publications is questionable. As The New York Observer and countless other blogs have reported, Newsday has hit another rough patch, trying to get people to subscribe with added online fees. Newsday started charging $5 a month/ $260 a year for subscription. After three months of putting its site behind a paywall, Newsday has apparently attracted only 35 subscribers. Newsdays’ website relaunch alone cost $4 million dollars and they have only made back $9,000 from their 35 new subscribers. Newsday counters that they offer free subscriptions to Cablevision and Optimum Online broadband service customers, which is why their subsciption numbers appear so low. Their representatives say that 75 percent of Long Island either has a Cablevision subscription or Optimum Cable. While Newsday’s efforts to create a paywall for local Long Island news content may be struggling, there are a number of innovative news sites that are creating new ways for the public to both 1) pay for content and 2) add input to what stories are most important to us.

This week I interviewed Spot.us founder, David Cohn to hear about his outlook on paywalls and ideas on his new journalism venture. Spot.us is an innovative journalism venture, where independent journalists pitch their ideas and the public gives money for the stories that we want investigated. The news content focuses mostly on local news in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. David says that micro-lending sites like Kiva.org have been inspiration for applying a similar business model to new media journalism. Kiva.org is a person-to-person microlending website, where any entrepreneur can post their project and the public becomes their lenders. According to the Kiva.org, $1,097,375.00 has been lent this week and there have been 17,928 lenders made a loan, reinforcing the enormous potential of microlending. Spot.us has taken this brilliant idea and applied it to online journalism. On Spot.us, you can read about the journalist’s experience to get a better understanding of his/her background. The site promotes transparency and accountability, on the part of the journalist and the public. The public is able to see the cost of stories including research, assistant researchers and other critical expenses which would help produce the full story.

One of the main reasons we don’t receive great news information on a daily basis is that newsrooms do not supply the money to fund hard-hitting investigative stores. Cohn, a freelance journalist himself, knows how rare it is for the public to have imput in what stories make it to print. “.0001% of the news reading population sets the news agenda, editors.” Spot.us shows the public that real journalism does cost and if the public prefers real news then we have to add capital to support it. One pitch is: Investor’s Club: Do the UC Regents Spin Public Funds into Private Profit? National-award winning investigative reporter Peter Byrne, would investigate the “very wealthy, politically powerful men” who “are fixtures on the regent’s (University of California) investment committee, including Richard C. Blum (Wall Streeter, war contractor, and husband of U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein), and Paul Wachter (Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s long-time business partner and financial advisor)” adding that “the public needs to know who benefits from controlling the University of California’s $53 billion in Wall Street investments.” The investigation is very timely considering the state’s financial situation, and the thousands of students that have been active in protesting recent tuition hikes within the UC system.

Cohn says that Spot.us is “an experiment that has to be tried.” Cohn believes that putting up a paywall might work for bigger, international papers like the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and New York Times, but that more regional papers like the San Francisco Tribune should explore other options. Paywalls are “not a good idea for the flow of information” Cohn says. Indeed, they just create another barrier to information access. No one knows for sure the future of journalism, but it’s crucial that we explore, experiment and evolve ideas on how we can receive, create, and interact with our news in smarter ways.

Journalism in 10: Students on the Future of Media

Video Source: The Nation online

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