As someone who consumes a lot of news (and news about the news industry), I’ve recently felt like I’m on news overload.
To be honest, I’ve actually started falling behind in my knowledge of what’s happening in the world. And I can’t be the only one. After thinking about it (even mapping it out on some paper), I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not the news’ fault that I can’t pay attention to it all anymore. News is always happening; the problem is with technology.
Consider the political demonstrations going on in the world. I followed the Egypt crisis to the extent that I understood what bearing it had on America, but as for Libya and Wisconsin, quite frankly it’s bad timing for the American attention span. Most of us have moved on, and are hoping for the best in those places (or, ignorant as it may be, just not caring either way). There’s too much else going on (hear about Bieber’s new haircut?) to pay attention to it all (we’ll just hope the Wisconsin thing doesn’t cause a shortage in cheese production).
Point is, we are constantly hounded in an era of not only 24/7 news coverage, but hyper-24/7 news coverage. We’ve always talked about how advertising is thrown in our faces all day long. Now it’s the news.
We’re all aware that we live in a time where simply pulling up a social network will cause an onslaught of the latest news coverage, giving us accessibility that we didn’t have even a year ago. Furthermore, if you own a tablet or iPad or browser-capable handset, you’ve likely stumbled upon the numerous apps available at your disposal for news consumption, with cool names like Flipboard or Zinio.
It’s out of control. News aggregators and apps and social networks are supposed to make it easier for us to find, read and share the news, but technology is starting to make news consumption and distribution more complex. By now, most Americans are starting to settle on a small number of ways to get the latest scoops: they may read a newspaper, or browse a news website. Some also rely on interactive media, be it a morning email, a shared article by an acquaintance, or an RSS feed. The tech savvier of us will use a combination of these services for news, including some of the more niche apps for iPads and iPhones. I’ve started narrowing the services I use to get news to simplify my own news-getting life, which I hope makes it easier to stay on top of things.
The concept of news services oversaturation is going to further complicate the news industry for media companies, some of which are starting to – for perhaps the first time in years – experiment yet again with paid-content models. A decade or so ago, when news companies hopped on the web and thought it’d be cool to charge for content or made people register to read, the model failed hard, due to the fact that people simply think news from a website should be free, they could perhaps find it elsewhere, or there was a paper with the same article nearby.
It’s a different world now. Newspapers and magazines aren’t sitting around homes or offices like they used to, giving publishers an open door to charge for content. If the process is kept simple, people will register on a website these days, but really only to allow them to comment or perhaps get a daily email or restaurant deal.
Yet asking people to pay could be an even harder sell this time around, as there are multiple ways to consume and various places to find news. Add on top of that our waning attention spans (who reads an entire article anymore?) and news being thrown at us constantly, and the idea of pressing the Pay Button for one story becomes one heck of a daunting click. The concept of sharing through interactive media is new, too. Media companies are seeing higher traffic to their websites because of shared articles through social networks, which means more impressions for advertisers. But you ever click through a shared news story only to find that you have to pay to read it? Back Buttons have never been hit faster.
Richmond-based Media General will be one of the first news companies in the nation to use Google’s new One Pass service, allowing the company’s flagship paper, the Times-Dispatch, to set terms and pricing on select content.
Charging for a single news story is going to prove unsuccessful, as – let’s hope – I’m sure any media company is well aware by now. Even charging for in-depth investigative pieces is going to be a stretch for many readers who don’t have the time or interest to read or the desire to pay, unless the cost can be kept to mere pennies. My hope is that paid content at Media General or other companies would be stuff like vital public court documents that are of value to business owners (as Richmond BizSense does), or stories about public officials’ salaries. It’s content you may desire, but would take lots of legwork to find on your own.
For most people, the concept of being charged for online news is a frustrating and an even alienating concept. Unfortunately for the publication paying lots of money to create valuable content, it comes off as greedy if other media outlets are giving away similar news for free. The money problem for newspapers is that they aren’t just paying the cost of running a website, they’ve still got to pay for the print edition’s production and the costs of running a newsroom. Online ad revenue can support a website, but it can’t support a website and a newspaper’s overhead.
Worse still is that the individual news outlet no longer matters to news audiences. Consumers aren’t going to a single place for the story anymore, they are visiting aggregators that have multiple versions of the same story for their choosing, using apps, or being referred by friends from their Facebook pages. Audiences already pay hundreds of dollars each year for Internet access and applications, they don’t have the attention spans they used to, and rarely does anyone sit down and read entire articles anymore. Many of these behaviors for consuming news are not what they were even six months ago.
News creators are focused on how much their news is worth. News audiences are concerned with how much their time costs. Hopefully, the two can meet in the middle.
-Jeff (@jephkelley) Note: Jeff was a business and tech reporter at the Times-Dispatch, reads it online and on its iPhone app, and has faith that the T-D and other media outlets can make the paid content model work.