Monday, June 1, 2009

Journalism Online LLC CEO Chats With Top Newspapers on Payment/Micropayment Model

In what has become the world's worst secret, around dozen dozen top executives (and an antitrust lawyer) met in Chicago last Thursday to talk about “to discuss how best to support and preserve the traditions of newsgathering that will serve the American public,”according to the Nieman Journalism Lab blog. The executives were walking a very fine line, since they can't talk about things like creating pay walls without breaking antitrust laws.

And one of the speakers was Steven Brill, founder of Journalism Online, LLC, which will offer tools to publishers that will allow them to charge for online content. You can see my April 22 post on the venture here. Journalism Online is scheduled to launch this fall, Brill told

What did Brill tell the executives? He called his venture a "hybrid model" that "allows publishers can keep 88% of page views and 91% of online ad revenues while adding significant online circulation revenues (80 cents to $1.00 x 10% of monthly unique) AND boosting PRINT circ revenue (with bundled offers) while lowering PRINT sub acquisition and retention costs,” wrote Paid Content.

And speaking of paying for content, writer Tim Windsor of the Nieman Journalism Lab blog asks a very simple question: Is news content gasoline, or is it bottled water? With that question, he asks if free online news is something that people must buy -- like gasoline -- because they have to? Or is it like bottled water, a commodity that people can get for free but pay for it because they like the packaging and branding?

There are thousands of people -- like me -- who pay for bottled water and things like music in iTunes. Yet, writes Windsor, "almost universally, when asked, they say they won't pay for digital news content at any price." Which is the very question the newspaper executives were pondering at that recent meeting.

The answer, of course, is that someone must develop a model that gets the news out there and allows companies to pay their journalists and also make some money. Or do we have to consider moving to non-profit models like Either way, the incoming NABJ board will have to make itself a part of this debate to ensure that its members have career options under both models.

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