Thursday, June 29, 2017

Paying By The Piece

There is hope.

Despite the collapsing daily newspaper industry and concern that people are not getting enough factual, balanced news on current affairs, there is hope.

Hope is difficult to see through dark statistics showing fewer sources of truthful and objective reporting of world affairs.

Pew Research Centre data shows that in 2015 only 16 per cent of adults 18 to 34 years old read a daily newspaper. Among people 65-plus, traditionally the age group with the largest per cent of readers, only 50 per cent were daily newspaper readers.

News Media Canada, which represents print and digital news platforms, puts a brighter face on it. It says nine out of ten Canadian adults read a daily or community newspaper in print, online or mobile format every week.

Forget all the research, statistics and various commentary on readership, however. The plain fact is there is more fake news, less trustable news and fewer people reading reliable news that can help them to make informed decisions.

That is a serious problem for democracy. Even more serious considering that three of the planet’s most dangerous countries – Russia, North Korea and the U.S.  – are led by psychopaths.

News is as vital to democracy as clean air, safe streets, good schools and public
health, an American blue ribbon commission on information has noted.

Daily newspapers are providing fewer stories of importance. Radio and television don’t have the length or depth to fill much of that role. New media such as Twitter and Facebook don’t do it either because they can’t be relied on to provide unvarnished facts.

Where is the hope then?

There are some new initiatives, and the one that has impressed me the most is the Dutch startup named Blendle. It is an online news platform launched three years ago by two young Dutch journalists. It aggregates articles from newspapers and magazines, which can purchased on a pay-per-article basis. The average cost of an article is roughly 30 cents.

The service was Europe-only at first but has been tested in the U.S. and will officially launch there this fall. It has about 25 U.S. titles now but so far none in Canada.

To use Blendle you go to its website and read the menu of stories available. You might see a New York Times piece on how Trump’s new health care plan shifts dollars from the poor to the rich. The article will cost you 19 cents to read, which you pay by opening a digital wallet where you have deposited some money.

An interesting aspect of Blendle is that if you don’t like a story you have paid for, the service will refund your money. That seems a dangerous policy. People read  articles, say they don’t like them, even if they do, and get their money back. How many unscrupulous readers are doing that?

Not many, Jessica Best, head of Blendle editorial, tells me in an interview from Amsterdam, Blendle’s headquarters.

The U.S. refund rate is only seven per cent, she says, “. . . partly because people care about our mission. They believe in our mission.”

I love the pay-per-article idea. You don’t have to pay a subscription or buy an entire newspaper or magazine to read one article when you don’t have interest in - or the time to read - the rest.

To be successful Blendle must offer top drawer content tailored for its readers. Or as Ms. Best puts it, “original quality journalism.”

And that means more than reporting just what happened this morning, or yesterday, with no perspective, background or why what happened, happened.

“We are looking for people willing to pay for the why, not the what,” she says.

So therein lies the hope: two young guys invent a new way of bringing trustable news to readers who need it to make informed decisions on what is happening in their world.

There are others out there who will find more ways of delivering the vital and trustable news and information we need to understand this increasingly complicated world and give us ideas on how to best navigate it.

What we all need to do is dedicate more time to consuming it.

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