The ugliest phrase in journalism at the moment is ‘pay wall’. Isn’t it just the worst possible way of describing what we want to achieve? Wall says restricted. Wall says “this isn’t for you”.
And wall sums up an entire attitude too. An attitude that we desperately need to shake off. An attitude that says the choice we have is either a) a free online newspaper or b) a paid for subscription for an online newspaper.
I say bring this to the table: c) A newspaper with added valuable extras which cost the reader.
What are valuable extras? Your star columnists. Your war correspondents. Your exciting multimedia. They can — and should — be behind the pay lid
What aren’t valuable extras? Hard news, breaking stories. In other words, the stories that every news website in the world can — and will — publish.
In today’s Evening Standard, Emma Duncan says the pay wall will never work because of one crucial enemy: the BBC. There’s no escaping it — the BBC’s resources, know-how and power could never be rivalled by any newspaper. That’s been the case for years. But she’s missing the point.
Later on in the same paper, their new sex columnist, Nirpal Dhaliwal suggests lovers should “Get yourself on to the roof of any major skyscraper for a similar adventure — Bush House for instance.” What better place to embrace your lust than on the top of the BBC World Service’s headquarters?
So taking Nirpal’s lead, I say let’s make love, not walls.
Newspapers may not be able to compete with the BBC. But on the same token, can the BBC ever compete with newspapers? A new colleague of mine at the World Service argued that newspaper journalism is REAL journalism. It’s the digging in. BBC News crews are so wrapped up in covering every major story of the day that they have literally no time to think about what it all means.
Take the recent Daily Telegraph scoop. Could the BBC have followed that one to its dramatic climax? No way. Couldn’t happen. But the Telegraph could. And boy, it did.
So far from looking at the BBC as an immovable object, I say the BBC is allowing newspapers to get on with it. The BBC News website is the Mr Muscle of online publishing. It really does love the jobs you hate.
Now if my time at the BBC has taught me anything, it’s that ideas are worthless — it’s working examples that really get you somewhere. So, taking the Telegraph scoop into consideration, here’s how you could handle the story online while making back some of the reported £150,000 you spent finding it all out:
Here’s the homepage for the expenses story (enlarge by clicking). What are your valuables here? The great scoop about Lib Dems? Strangely not. This is the story that will — and indeed, already is — be thrust around news sources in seconds. In fact, I’d argue that none of the stories in the main area are valuable extras at all. In old money, they would have been — they would have been the money-grabbing front page. But not today. Big stories are shared stories — the important bit is using the kudos to your advantage.
The valuables, then, lie elsewhere. Look at the sidebar, what do you see? Comment. Simon Heffer on the spirit of Cromwell. Denis MacShane on how the BNP shouldn’t be allowed to capitalise on the scandal. These are your valuable extras. Knowing that it was the Telegraph that did the digging — isn’t its own analysis considered to be the golden nugget of its output?
And there’s more. You could charge for things like this. People appreciate the effort. Indeed, I didn’t buy the Telegraph this week, but had I have done I would have immediately looked up my local MP. This article appeals to me, and a micropayment arrangement would have worked.
And to top it off, the Telegraph could hurl in income by saying offering a one-time payment (two quid?) which gives you access rights to all expenses-related material on the site.
It’s all actually rather easy.