If recent posts seem to be concentrating on the issue of paying for news, it’s because it’s much on my mind.

Maybe the biggest hurdle in getting to the point where people will pay for news, whether it’s through subscriptions, tip jars, pay-per-views or whatever, is trying to answer the question, Which news?

(An ancillary question: Can I be convinced to pay for online access to my local daily when it is no longer the sole source and, more importantly, when I find little value in the bundle itself?)

Things were simpler a decade and a half ago, when the three daily newspapers that landed on my doorstep (all paid for) were what I needed.

Not any more. For any given story, other than perhaps the truly local, there are dozens of sources and there’s no single source that covers it best day in and day out. When I’m following a story, I’ll go through as many as a dozen websites and, for different stories, they are not always the same ones.

I’m hardly unique. Increasingly, it’s the way people inform themselves. And that’s where part of the idea of paying for the news breaks down substantially. How many subscriptions should I have to buy to cover the part-time creation of value?

Paying: A thought exercise

I follow 400+ sources through RSS, covering the range of my interests. On an average day, for the sake of argument, let’s say there is something of value — worth paying for — in 25 per cent of those feeds. But, day to day, that 25 per cent never covers the exact same mixture of 100 sites.

If I were paying a penny a day for each of those feeds, I’d spend roughly $1,500 a year, even though the annual real value (my daily 100 ever-varying feeds) would be $365.

That proposition — spending more than I need to spend to get the information I value — made sense when you could count the sources on one hand (my three daily newspaper subscriptions, for example).

But now I have the resources of, literally, the world. And, along with the host of media sources, there is another host of “non-media” bloggers who add depth and comment to news that in many cases is as valuable to me as the original reporting.

The proposition has changed. The value was once established by the editors putting those bundles together. Now, it’s established by the individuals who consume the individual items from a warehouse full of bundles.

Towards a model? No

Imagine a system that can capture the value I assign to the bits and pieces, and convert that into money for the originators.

The central account belongs not to publishers, but to me. Every time I visit a source, I have the option of clicking a button labelled “Valuable.” My account registers every “Valuable” hit on every individual page/site. Every week/month/quarter, the system adds them all up, sorts them all out, and sends money to each of those who have created the “Valuable” information based on how many times I’ve hit the button.

Wonderful thought experiment that, but one that relies on software that’s able to handle 100s of millions of individual accounts and 100s of millions of “valuable” clicks every day, as well as the accounting necessary to get the money to the originators, even those getting only pennies.

And, frankly, it’s a lousy model to build a business on, because there is little way to make even medium-range plans based on guesses about how many people will hit the “Valuable” button for any piece of content. At least with advertising supporting the bundle, you can make reasonable projections, even if the economy sours.

You knew this was coming

And herein lies the rub.

I’m willing to pay for good content that’s of value to me (and have, through tip jars, etc.). But what’s of value to me is in the full range of information, the full range of sources and voices and not just what has been carefully chosen for me by the local editors.

(Please note, I am not disparaging the work of those editors, who continue to do much good work.)

I don’t think I’m alone in my willingness to pay. And I don’t think I’m alone in my unwillingness to give up access to that vast range of sources.

So to go back to the opening question, which news? Particularly, which news, given that what’s valuable to me changes day to day.

And, finally, given that the idea that defining value switches from the provider to the consumer, how can I pay, in a way that makes sense to me and, as a business model, to those who are providing the information.