On the newspaper front, it seems there has been more cause for fiscal optimism over the last little while. The mantra that “you need to support us because we are good for you” (which tends to put reading newspapers on par with, say, eating broccoli), has slowly given ground to cautious and understated optimism about coming experiments with paywalls and great dollops of excitement about the emergence of tablet and smartphone apps that people are willing to buy.
When it think this through, though, and read the anaylses and predictions, I keep coming up against the thought that while the financial opportunities for journalism may be changing, one thing isn’t: abundance.
It is an accepted truth that one of the major effects of the internet age, or whatever we are calling this new time, is the end of scarcity, particularly as it applies to the availability of news reporting and journalism.
One implication of abundance is that I’m going to carefully choose the journalism I pay for once we reach the golden age of paywalls and tablet apps. It’s a question of money, certainly. But it’s also a question of time and attention. Back when I subscribed to three daily newspapers, a lot of issues got glanced at and put on the to-be-read pile, which inevitably became the recycle-this-now pile. I don’t want a digital equivalent of that.
The other implication, of course, is that I’m no longer limited to the handful of titles that could have been delivered to my door a decade ago. I have, literally, the world at hand.
And we can add to the paywalled websites and purchase-by-the-month subscription apps the rest of the great, untidy modern world of communications: television, radio, blogs, Facebook status updates, the great sweep of digital did-you-hear-about-this chatter. And the links, always, the links.
Deciding where to spend money on journalism — when that day comes — is going to be complex. How much local, national, international will I really need to pay for to be comfortable that I am informed? What value will any of the dozens of daily publications I might consider really deliver for me that I can’t get elsewhere?
It’s no longer as simple as one from column A (local), one from column B (national).
And, if that’s the case for a news consumer/user/reader (or whichever label we finally land on), it’s even more challenging for the publications that will be after my media dollars: pure presence (on the local scene, for instance) will be no longer enough to convince me that this is media that I have to have.
No matter how good, in their minds, it may be for me.