Columbia Journalism Review contributing editor Michael Shapiro provides a lament on the lost way of journalism. He sizes up its meanderings into potholes, then manholes, and he leaves little question of skepticism of its recent steps to find the right route.
His essay outlines the challenges of re-erecting a paywall after years of largely free access. In short, he asks, what can you charge for? Perhaps something grounded in vast reportage (he notes the Texas Longhorns' fan site, Orangebloods, as an example of fervent audience meeting fervent reporting).
What he searches for in the article is what people might pay for. Is it local news? Is it niche information? Is there a way to develop a hybrid of free and paid content that attracts advertising to one and subscribers to another?
Perhaps, he notes, the Washington Post's idea of selling itself as the idea of Washington might make sense. Rather than geography, tap into community of interest. There are also places like CQ.com, the Congressional Quarterly's aggregation of content widely available elsewhere but curated smartly by them.
"Niche sites succeed, in large measure, by staking out a line of coverage that represents precisely the kinds of stories that newspapers decided to abandon years ago because so many readers found them so tedious: process stories."
"So it is that journalism’s crisis offers an opportunity to transform the everyday work of journalism from a reactive and money-losing proposition into a more selective enterprise of reporting things that no one else knows. And choosing, quite deliberately, to ignore much of what can be found elsewhere.
"People will pay for news they deem essential, and depending on the depth and urgency of their need, they will pay a lot."