The importance of paying for quality reporting

I read with interest recently an article which centred around what was termed ‘clicks for quids’. In other words, the use of advertising to create revenue for online news sites.

According to James Mitchinson, the highly respected editor of The Yorkshire Post, the media industry has been ‘too reticent’ to ask people to pay for journalism. And I agree.

He was speaking further to the release of the 2020 Digital News Report which provides the latest insight into how we consume digital news (both pre-COVID-19, and during), while also considering the progress of the relatively new ‘paid online’ business model.

And while the report did find that the use of social media is on the up, which will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone, it also found that there is GLOBAL concern about misinformation, and that media trust was more than twice the level for social networks, video platforms, or messaging services when it came to information about COVID-19.

In other words, while many may turn to their social media platform of choice for the gossip, when it comes to serious news people rely on the ethics of the newspaper and news broadcast industry. The unfiltered and unregulated world of ‘citizen journalism’ simply doesn’t cut the mustard.

Remember the rumours about dolphins reappearing in the deserted Venetian canals. Soz, not true. Or the elephants roaming free though a village in China. Nope!

Regardless of your preference (red top, broadsheet, BBC or HuffPost), if you want the facts, you need to go to one of the official sources.

Sadly, however, The Guardian reported in March that 10% of frontline journalistic jobs in the UK were likely to be affected by the economic impact of the pandemic, and that regional titles that rely on advertising revenue from small businesses had been particularly badly hit.

Industry researcher IBISWorld also found that in 2020-21, UK newspaper revenue is ‘estimated to fall by 7.4% as a deterioration in global economic conditions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak drives an accelerated decline in advertising revenue and printed newspaper sales’.

How then, can journalism, and the journalists delivering such a vital service, be paid for, if not through paywalls?

It is after all, a job. And one that should be paid reasonably and fairly.

Advertising absolutely has its place, and where better to build brand awareness (and customer loyalty) than on a local newspaper website, but if the journalism is lacking in quality or credibility, the traffic will be lack lustre at best.

I would hazard a guess that few of my neighbours frequent the Sheffield Star website only to see which local accountancy firm has parted with some budget in any given month.

In the words of Mr Mitchinson, as quoted by Prolific North: “We have to move away from the ‘clicks for quids’ model. The advertising model, especially programmatic advertising, will increasing be of less importance than reader revenue.

“A responsible publishers group and a responsible advertisers’ consortium could make a huge difference to publishers. We need to start working together.”