Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Can the Pay-To-Play Model Work for Print/Online Journalism?

From March 2006 through December 2008, my beats covered, among other things, airports and aviation security, including the Transportation Security Administration. One of the people I interviewed regularly was Steven Brill. Brill is known for founding Court TV, American Lawyer magazine and Brill's Content magazine and teaching journalism, among other things. After the 9/11 attacks, he created a company -- Verified Identity Pass -- which ran the Clear registered traveler program. Travelers currently pay $199 a year, go through a security check and can use special Clear security lines in 20 U.S. airports.

Brill recently stepped down as CEO of Clear, and when I interviewed him, he indicated that he wanted to explore different projects, including looking at new business models to monetize the content newspapers and online publication are giving away for free.
So now I read in the New York Times that Brill -- along with Gordon Crovitz, a former publisher of The Wall Street Journal and Leo Hindery Jr., who has headed communications companies like Tele-Communications Inc., Global Crossing and the YES Network -- have created Journalism Online L.L.C., which will offer tools to publishers that will allow them to charge for online content. We have all heard the pontification on how the current models don't work as more people move online to get their news content -- content that, in most cases, they expect to get for free. The idea sounds good on paper. A reader would go to, as an example, the Baltimore Sun to read a story on its web site. After the reader reached a certain point, Journalism Online L.L.C would step in at that point, asking for payment to see more of a story. But if you're like me and read many different sites, you'd go directly to Journalism Online's web site and pay a one time fee -- Brill said $15 a month -- to read an unlimited amount of stories. I'm all for models that help monetize the content we all work hard to get and get paid to produce. But I have questions about this new model, including:

  • What incentives are there for a newspaper/online publication to participate?
  • How many publications would need to participate to make the venture viable?
  • How will the venture wean enough people away from the vast amount of free content out there to make money?
I could go on, but you get the point. And Brill tried this back in 2000 with, which was created to sell information sources including books, e-books, magazines, pay-per-view articles, broadcast transcripts, research reports, dissertations, speeches, and legal documents, according to Information Today. But the venture shut down after only 14 months, after Brill said in a memo that we simply were unable to entice enough people for us to see our way to a viable enterprise.

I'm for anything that will bring in the money and stem the tide of job losses in our industry. And I'm sure the partners in Journalism Online will answer these questions and more as the venture moves forward. It's important for NABJ to play a role in ventures such as this as a way to support its members.
One of my goals as NABJ Region II Director is to work with the board to cast the net much wider to make sure our members are included in any ventures that could save -- and even create -- more jobs.

No comments:

Post a Comment