Reuters, the esteemed national news agency, recently took a poll of its readers to gauge their current attitude toward paid news. The results do not bode well for the pollsters. Even though their 1,230 respondents claimed to appreciate quality news reporting, they readily admitted their unwillingness to pay for it. Disappointingly, two-thirds said they would not pay for any online content, quality or not. Reuters’ readers seem to be discriminating customers: Eighty-one percent of them agreed that a particular news brand equals trusted content; nine out of ten of them regularly consult with a specific news brand to confirm breaking news. Even though they trust the news brands, they will not part with a dime to ensure the continuity of those news companies. Reuters responded to this poll by openly questioning its ongoing relevance in an age of freely flowing ongoing news briefs. Unquestionably, many other news organizations have asked the same question.
Meeting the Millennials
The millennials, whom the news organizations want to court, report that they hold reliable, verified news sources in high regard. They recognize that the plethora of news articles swarming the Internet makes it difficult to discern which news is real. Instead of trusting social media, they choose to turn to the home pages of established, trusted news organizations, where they believe that the news is accurate and well-sourced. That nugget of information can act as a guide for the news companies. Instead of trying to compete with social media, they can choose to join the fray. Millennials read more news articles on social media than any other age group, most frequently consuming news on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. By posting their content on Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News, and other social media giants, publishers can reach more readers and, hopefully, make some money along the way.
Same Old Story
News publishers have been struggling with readers’ parsimonious spending habits for years. In 2009, an article in Advertising Age argued against the contention that newspapers would follow in the model of cable news, where people pay for premium content. The article contended that whereas cable TV offers a much superior product to network TV, newspapers would be hard pressed to offer news that varies noticeably from the free news available on the Internet. Along the same lines, CBS published the results of a 2010 survey about news consumption. Among the respondents who reported regularly visiting a trusted news site, only 19 percent agreed that they would pay for news content. Research in 2015 from The Media Insight Project corroborated these findings, reporting millennials’ belief that news is a public commodity that should be offered for free. Reuters should not be surprised in the least by the outcome of its poll because paid news content has been limping along for years. To reinvigorate the industry, news publishers will have to find a new model to rely upon.