"First, if you want reliable information – pay good money for it. If you get your news for free, you might well be the product. Suppose a shady billionaire offered you the following deal: ‘I will pay you $30 a month, and in exchange, you will allow me to brainwash you for an hour every day, installing in your mind whichever political and commercial biases I want.’ Would you take the deal? Few sane people would. So the shady billionaire offers a slightly different deal: ‘You will allow me to brainwash you for one hour every day, and in exchange, I will not charge you anything for this service.’ Now the deal suddenly sounds tempting to hundreds of millions of people. Don’t follow their example."
21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
In my opinion, the business press WSJ, and Finacial Times (both expensive) are among the best places for news. Both try hard to be accurate. A lot of rich people read them and make decisions because of information. If it is not accurate that is a real problem. (I am here excluding the editorial pages of the WSJ which exists on an entirely different planet).
It also has the added benefit for me of much less nonsense.
Sports, celebrity gossip, and all the fluff that takes up way to much space in many news publications.
In my opinion, the main difference between the bad journalism that used to exist before, and the utterly horrible journalism that exists now, is that previously people treated the newspaper as a whole, and now they share articles on social networks separately.
Why does it make a difference? Because when you have a package of 20 articles, and you understand that 3 of them are complete bullshit (because they are about a topic you know something about), you become less likely to trust the remaining 17 articles even if you see nothing wrong about them (because they are about topics you know little about). When a bad article can ruin your impression of the entire newspaper, the newspaper has an incentive to avoid at least the most obvious nonsense.
The same mechanism mostly doesn't work online. People share one article at a time. You won't share it if you understand that it is nonsense. But the fact that some other article on the same online newspaper is obvious nonsense won't stop you from sharing this specific article. On paper, those articles are part of the same thing; online, each of them lives a separate life. (Actually, an online company such as Gawker can split their content among multiple websites, to further avoid bad impression from one article hurting the remaining ones.)
Perhaps paying for online newspapers could return this perception of a newspaper as a package. (Assuming there would be no deals like "pay $100 a month, and get access to these five newspapers".) Maybe.
It'll cost you $15 to read it though. Research like this is expensive, and since you're the party who will benefit, you have a duty to pay me.
If you refuse to pay me to read what I have to say, it means you hate the truth.
Many of these arguments boils down to “pay me or lose me.” While it’s true that good journalism costs money that doesn’t mean we should pay for mediocre and bad journalism. And it’s pretty hard for me to tell good from bad.
This reminds me of site that when you fire visit them put up a window that asks you to subscribe. I don’t know if I want to subscribe so how would I be able to choose. But if a site relies on people subscribing without good judgment then that’s probably a sign that they don’t have a good feedback loop for value.
Even the nytimes asks me to subscribe just to read for free. I’m not willing to do that to read the infrequent article from them and they are one of the world’s best. I used to subscribe but it was a chore to read regularly because of all the fluff.
Unless there is a micropayment tip jar, I’ll continue to read only the journalism that is able to survive from non-targeted ads. Which, I think, works out ok for me as I don’t regret very frequently choosing the “lose me” option.
Blendle  tried this model. It did not work for them. They're now using an all you can eat model.
But if I had to trust one, I guess it would be a The Guardian or DW(Deutsche Welle).
DW is particularly interesting as every household in Germany has to pay a radio free(~17 Euros per month) that also in part supports DW(Along with their documentary series which as far as I can see don't hesitate to criticise the government or BND(secret service)).
It is not a tax and as a result the German Government would have a hard time pushing its agenda to it.
Government does not get involved in collecting this fee except for having a law that an organization(ARD ZDF Deutschlandradio Beitragservice = joint contribution service for ARD ZDF and DR) can collect fees from every household that uses any kind of broadcaster/receiver devices.
It does not pass through the German government so it is not a tax.
None of the money paid for journals supports research, it all goes to the publishers, who do not share with the scientists.
So, while I still have to take everything with a grain of salt, if I read stuff from say Democracy Now or The Intercept (or ideally much smaller outlets with direct connections to the news at hand), I can feel more confident that I am not being intentionally manipulated for ulterior purposes. The fact that such outlets are often directly challenging the narrative being presented by more mainstream media and other power/profit-driven institutions is a testament to this. And since they offer their news mostly free of charge, relying on donations at the cost of potential earnings, they demonstrate a greater commitment to values of transparency over brainwashing (hopefully).
Of course, this category includes the likes of unhinged conspiracy theorists such as say Alex Jones. So one should still do some due diligence of fact-checking wherever possible to ensure they are presenting a narrative consistent with reality.
So there’s some evidence that “having to pay for news” hardly makes news the domain of the elite few.
Much more commonly, however, was local news on television. Televisions are one-time purchases after all and weren't that difficult to get with a tax refund check. The local news, if you had it, was definitely paid for by ads. And honestly, you only really got this news if you were able to watch it at the times it was on. Sure, they had 3 times a day with news, all of which coordinated with bankers hours.
..which were heavily subsidized, if not outright paid for, by ads.
Ads, yes. Tracking? No. Not remotely similar to what is happening on the Internet right now. The problem isn't advertising; it is tracking. Targeted advertising is just a result of tracking.
Offline newspapers exist too. They are made of trees, need to be delivered by a minimum wage paperboy (who remembers the game Paperboy?), they lag a few hours to a day behind, and the fact you read that newspaper and pay for it electronically gives away something about you... But what it doesn't track is which articles you read.
This is also a disadvantage of digital TV versus analog.
Neither the word “ad” nor “advertisement” nor any synonym appears in the post you responded to?
What the post you responded to says is “If you get your news for free, you might well be the product“, which isn’t the same thing.
If you read free news, monetizing you is all the income the organization is ever going to get. If, on the other hand, the organization is supported by a robust mix of sales and advertising, it is always going to have both the financial incentive and the financial wherewithal to resist advertisers’ demands to erode the editorial firewall.
It’s only with the undermining of subscription revenue that we’ve seen the corrosiveness of being too dependent on advertising destroy editorial credibility.
> Ads can give them that, patronage can give them that, government support can give them that, subscriptions can't.
This is plainly contradicted by the fact that newspapers, which were a paid product sold at retail and by subscription and not routinely given away for free, were the primary mechanism by which the populace of the western world received news for over a century.
No, it's not. Only 14 minutes elapsed between me pointing out that ads made it possible and you pretending that never happened. Is that a new gaslighting record?
> It’s only with the undermining of subscription revenue
That's the world we live in, and will live in for the foreseeable future, so my original questions still stand untouched by your diversions.
I’m not “pretending it didn’t happen” Literally what I wrote is “If, on the other hand, the organization is supported by a robust mix of sales and advertising”. It’s you who has constructed a ridiculous false dichotomy in which people who are calling for a return of subscriptions must somehow oppose the presence of advertising to supplement sales, an argument neither I nor the person you originally responded to made.
The history here is quite clear: Sales allowed organizations to sell advertising space while also maintaining enough editorial independence to please subscribers and deliver high quality journalism. “Free news”, solely supported by advertising, is a toxic mess where editorial firewalls are routinely nonexistent.
The problem is that it affects the entire society. If a society needs to get information to form an opinion on something (say, breaking US Politics), and goes to Liberal or Centrist publications (New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal), the articles are behind a paywall. If they go check a Right publication (Fox News, Infowars), it's free and readily available.
When one of our biggest issues is a lack of public knowledge, it's counterproductive to make that knowledge inaccessible, when the misinformation is not.
I don’t think the solution is all software being open, but if by business model we mean a way to consistently produce good stuff then it would be a great option for news.
I think the ultimate solution is to figure out a model for news that doesn’t rely on echo chamber subscriptions, privacy eating ads, or govt sponsored bias.
It’s a tough nut to crack, but I think an OSS-like volunteer with reputation model is the most likely. I’m way more likely to donate to a Linux Foundation/FSF/Apache Foundation style org that figures out how to get good truth and relevancy than NYT.
But I disagree OSS produces better quality than commercial, because the two don't always equate.
What you're likely referring to as high quality (Firefox, Android, Chromium, Linux, Gnome, etc..) all have massive commercial backing. They are commercial products without a doubt.
There's a ton of stuff that isn't commercial software like GCC or GNU tools but these aren't necessarily high quality unless you're capable of using them. That is, OSS is good quality for those who are likely developers or otherwise technically inclined.
If we take it back to the context of open publishing models, we have to make sure we can build a business model that works for everyone, and not a subset niche of readers.
I really don't believe there's a solution. As much as it pains me to say, I think diversity of revenue sources across the industry make for the best option - being ads, subscriptions and government entities all in the same market, which is basically what we have now. Much of the minute details of the status quo need to change, but I believe this is it for traditional* news publishing.
*I think independent influencers and creators who are funded directly by fans are likely the biggest shake up, but that's still just a subscription and at much smaller scale.
If we're going to discuss real journalists (not this pseudo-activism we've got today) who travel out into the public or dangerous places to find out the facts, then yeah, I think that's something we need, but the simple fact is you can't make money doing this with a Wiki style model. In my opinion this means the future is independent creators who are funded directly and traditional media completely burning up.
If you aren't paying for information either in terms of money, or inaccessibility (as in, there might not be a paywall, but you need to know where to look), it's probably not worth consuming.
Newspapers. Billboards. Magazines. Radio. TV. Cable TV. VHS / DVD. Usenet. Email. The Web. Online news. Smart phones. Streaming video.
It is a watershed decision to have ads or a subscription model. Ads will doom your platform / media. A subscription can create high quality content, if there is market demand for your content. Do not do both subscription AND ads. That devolves quickly.
An excellent ongoing example is Cable TV. Content is now about 50 % of the time. When a long string of ads are completed, then characters and other bugs and gizmos walk out onto the screen, on top of the content, obscuring the content, sometimes even important plot elements.
Or remember how BYTE magazine gradually became pregnant with ads, then eventually became what I would call the forerunner of Computer Shopper. All ads, no content.
And the web. Sites now have more ads than content. Especially some "news" sites. And the ads are obnoxious. Pop up, flashing, blinking, jumping, scrolling, in your face, making the content impossible to read.
We're slowly seeing that happen today.
And many which are just thin excuses for the promotional break...
There are also many good quality podcasts that don't use advertising.
Yes, advertising might be a net negative, but it's not a pure negative. It is important to help sellers connect with buyers. In a lot of ways it's like finance, which can also help lubricate the gears of commerce, but both it and advertising should be adjuncts to commerce. They shouldn't be these swollen behemoths that dwarf other industries. IMO taxes are the way to account for their externalities, and also reduce them to their economically optimal levels.
1. advertising is all about externalities
2. advertising's cost is relative. It matters more how much Coke spends on advertising relative to Pepsi and less the absolute amount that Coke spends. So if half of both Coke & Pepsi's advertising budget are taxed away neither Coke nor Pepsi lose much. But citizens gain due to both reduced ads and services provided with the state tax revenue gained.
That was eventually repealed, which now seems a poor decision.
Your statement sounds to me about like saying “Exhaust fumes power cars”.
Even today, I find a lot of the ads for tech podcasts informative the first time I hear them. I would have never known about BackBlaze, Hover or SquareSpace if it weren’t for podcast ads.
My problem is mostly the tracking, but even if I ignore the privacy issue, I've found that targeted advertising has seriously reduced the value of advertising to me.
This approach does work with how-to books (how to program X language), but not with news.
See Mssrs. Barnum and Mencken.
Now, we almost exclusively hear from people being sponsored by the wealthy while people independent of them are denigrated as an unprofessional fringe, and we're expected to feel guilt if we don't pay for it.
I send money to the publications that investigate the things I want investigated, who make the arguments that I already agree with, or who teach me things that I want to know, or who just make me smile. I don't even read half the publications I donate to; they're not for me, I already agree, and I don't need to hear the arguments because I make the same arguments. Whereas plenty of the publications I do read I think the world would be better without, and I not only don't want to donate to them, I wish I could somehow take money away from them.
I don't care about their suffering. If they don't like it, they should either find something else to do, or something important to say that people would want to pay to keep them saying NOT to hear. They're not the same thing. And no amount of corporate hectoring done through employees is going to change that.
NYT editorial columnists should be paying us.
After 20 years of experiments, there are only two models that have been consistently proven to work: restricting access to paying customers only (a.k.a. paywalling), and open access combined with heavy, invasive advertising (both the traditional kind, and more insidious kinds like clickbait headlines and sponsored content). That's it. Those are the only models anyone's found that don't lead to bankruptcy.
The problem is that tech insists that both these models are morally unacceptable. Put up a paywall, and you'll get a parade of tech influencers denouncing you as a greedy elitist. Don't put up a paywall, and you'll get the same parade of tech influencers denouncing you as a purveyor of spyware and clickbait.
OK, fine. So what then does tech propose these publications do, exactly? Are they supposed to just lay down and die? Because unless someone can come up with a third model that actually works, that's the only option left after you rule out every other option that works.
You can see this incoherence play out in every HN comment thread about journalism. The New York Times consistently produces excellent journalism; but they keep that journalism behind a paywall, so they are Evil. Buzzfeed doesn't have a paywall, but it produces lots of clickbait and sponsored content, so they are Evil too.
The only publications that aren't Evil, it turns out, are the ones that are going out of business.
 Although they also produce an increasing amount of very good journalism these days alongside it. Which, of course, the clickbait and sponsored content pay for.
There's also the advertising-only-if-you-don't-have-a-subscription model, as on Twitch (which may or may not have journalism, depending on what exists that I haven't seen and on whether you count talk shows on current-events).
Wikipedia doesn't do any original reporting, it (essentially) uses volunteer work to aggregate/summarize original research that other people have done. That original research has to get paid for. Or in other words, if all journalism ceases to exist, suddenly Wikipedia won't be able to function either.
> it works for NPR
NPR is also supported by advertising in a big way, we've all just sort of collectively agreed not to call it that. Technically NPR has "underwriters" and not "advertisers", and they run "underwriting segments" instead of "ads", but apart from a couple of FCC rules mandating stricter truth laws than normal ads, there's not really any difference.
> as on Twitch
The vast majority of Twitch broadcasters do not earn enough to make a living, and the ones who do generally get that way by being flashy, vapid and obnoxious enough to attract a cult following. I don't want this model to carry over to journalism.
In conclusion, I don't think your comment offers any real evidence for a possible "third way" in journalism.
For individual stations, a mix of funding sources is generally represented.
KQED, San Francisco's PBS/NPR affiliate, familiar to many HN readers, and the most-listened to radio station in the US, has a breakdown as follows:
- Contributions & Membership Fees: 56%
- Underwriting & General Grants: 21%
- Community Service Grants: 8%
- All other: 15%
"Underwriting" includes sponsor spots.
That breakdown is probably typical of larger stations. Many smaller stations operate through colleges, universities, or community resources, including federal funding for operating (but not programming) expenses.
NPR also receives direct underwriting revenues, as do specific programmes (and their originating stations or organisations).
This isn't completely true. NPR-associated stations regularly hold donation drives, and solicit donations from private individuals to help them meet their expenses. It's a significant part of their operating budget. Of course, they also have "messages from the sponsors" too, though not nearly as many as in commercial radio.
Regular journalism could do the same thing if they wanted to.
Who is "tech"? "Tech" has an incoherent position because "tech" is an incoherent entity you've invented so you can disagree with them.
Here's my position--I think you'll find the position of a person who exists in reality to be a bit more coherent:
Advertising is always bad. At the very best it's forcing biased views into our attention. At the worst, it's manipulative lies packaged with all manner of malware. Advertising breaks the fundamental ideal of capitalism that the best products and services for the best price win, because better-advertised products can win even if they're inferior. If one company advertises, all their competitors have to advertise, which takes money away from producing quality goods and services, and these costs are passed back to the consumer. And fundamentally, paying for content with advertising means that the content creator is serving the advertisers rather than the consumers of the content.
I disagree with paywalls for academic publishing: these usually do nothing to support research financially, and hinder education and further research. Research is typically funded by institutions and governments anyway.
For journalism, I prefer donation-based services, but I'm not opposed to paywalls, provided that they don't also include ads.
For most other things, subscription or purchase models are perfectly acceptable. My personal preference is to have ownership of the content I have paid for (download an EPUB/MP3/MP4 or buy some physical media rather than stream it)--but this is a preference rather than an ethical position.
> After 20 years of experiments, there are only two models that have been consistently proven to work: restricting access to paying customers only (a.k.a. paywalling), and open access combined with heavy, invasive advertising (both the traditional kind, and more insidious kinds like clickbait headlines and sponsored content). That's it. Those are the only models anyone's found that don't lead to bankruptcy.
For journalism, none of Mother Jones, Pro Publica, or NPR follow either of the business models which you claim are the only ones that work. For academic publishing, there's a whole list of open access journals which again have neither paywalls nor advertising.
PBS has existed for a lot more than 20 years.
At a more fundamental level, an entry-level Squarespace subscription costs $16 for the month, $12 if you pay annually. There's lots of kinds of content that don't have to be for-profit at all, and the costs associated are well within the ability of most people to pay.
> OK, fine. So what then does tech propose these publications do, exactly? Are they supposed to just lay down and die?
In many cases, yes.
Your argument seems to be, if these companies aren't evil they'll go bankrupt. I'm saying, if they are evil, then they should go bankrupt.
Advertising models, in particular, support low-quality content, and even when they don't, the quality content is mixed in with low-quality content in a way where it's hard to distinguish the two (your Buzzfeed example is a good one for this).
Isn't the fundamental principle of capitalism that the value of something is what people pay for it? So if nobody is willing to pay for, donate to, or devert institutional or government resources to something, it probably doesn't have much value, now does it? Why should we accept harmful business models just to prop up businesses that don't provide value?
Obviously, content providers who make money off this will disagree. But I don't see why we as humans or as a society should be concerned if these people can't make money off their harmful business models. Good riddance.
Maybe if you have something important to say, don't say it on twitter.
"Don't publish important things behind paywalls" is a very easy moral principle for a rich person to adopt. That doesn't mean it's false -- but to make the point convincingly, one would have to take the perspective of people who have strong reasons to publish behind paywalls in the first place, and explain why they can and should resist these pressures.
Don’t stop there. When you have something important to say on the web, it’s wrong to use anything other than a plain web page. (CMV.)
I mean, I get where he's coming from (reach is reduced by imposing barriers to the article).
But on the other hand, news costs money. You can argue about how much it should cost, but journalism isn't free. Personally, I pay for 4-5 newspapers (which is too much), but after the sh*tstorm of the past three years (Brexit, elections etc), I felt that it was worth the money.
It's also a little ironic for someone as rich as Paul Graham to be arguing against paywalls (like he could pay for every news-subscription and never notice the cost).
In summation, Carthego delenda est! (or news is worth paying for, at least).
This isn't a coincidence: to a large extent, the last few years haven't been THAT remarkable, but news outlets will inevitably cover things as if they're very remarkable, because that's what fuels subscriptions. See also: http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/hatethenews
You don't think it is possible that those things could have been avoided if people had better access to high quality information from for example newspapers and scientific studies? Currently a majority of people don't think it is worth it to pay for quality information so they only consume the poor quality crap you get for free. I guess this situation is fine if you want to sit in your ivory tower and lament over the ignorant masses ruining everything, but if you actually want to solve the issue you should clamor for more quality information being made free because in a democracy it is the ignorant masses whose opinions actually matter.
"But it doesn't matter, those people are too dumb to understand!" you say, well totally blocking them from accessing information is a good way to ensure that the situation will never improve.
(Perhaps I don't view news as having something important to say)
However, your point is interesting - sometimes you do have to charge in order to say things effectively. For example, you generally have to charge for a book to cover the cost of putting it together.
Either advertise and make it free, or have a paywall subscription model.
I get it that news isn't free. What is strange about the struggle is that in the 21st century a big news organization can have a bigger subscriber base than ever before. So why don't they? What is broken?
There are high quality publications that I think do consistently do the original research and due diligence behind their reporting, but they're mostly just not of interest to me anymore because they're national. I'm overloaded with political stuff in my face from other sources anyway - I'm happier just not reading good commentary on it in my spare time. I find BBC is a good source of world news, but they never ask me for money..
Because they get their funding by the taxpayers of the United Kingdom, who quite generously allow the rest of us to benefit from the product they paid for.
But if we're advocating state-sponsored media, remember that in that field the BBC's commitment to real journalism makes it kind of an outlier. Most state-sponsored media outlets are just propaganda mills for the regime that sponsors them.
I see some media working to recover their image nowadays, but low quality is still the norm.
I don't understand this fundamentalism. Newspapers and magazines that charged subscription fees have also carried advertising for literally the entire modern history of newspapers and magazines. Why is it suddenly a Fundamental Rule that they can only do one or the other? Who made that decision?
Print advertising is merely annoying, and only to the extent that it's numerous. A bit of advertising in a printed media is even funny.
As long as web advertisers don't stop being evil, both situations will keep being different.
To break the circle: Why is web advertising categorically evil when print advertising isn't?
Do you think academic publications are important? Then he is referring to academic publications.
Of course most news and most academic publications are not important so are not covered, please monetize them as much as you want. But the important stuff should be open. I think that is his argument.
Example: Someone writes a very good article on climate change which could sway many ignorant persons. If it was behind a paywall then you ensure that only those who already believes in climate change will bother to pay for it and read it making the entire article mostly worthless to the world.
"If you have information that you want as many people as possible to know, it's a disservice to yourself to put it behind a paywall"
Of course, I don't think that most people read into statements the same way the 'ycombinator crowd' does. So maybe they read it that way anyway.
There's this, but that's a very short book if that's it: http://paulgraham.com/hp.html
I don't know what the solution is, but I generally agree with the sentiment, even though as a writer I'm caught in the crossfire here and can't pay my bills because ads are basically dead (and morally/logistically problematic in certain problem spaces) and trying to support writing via other avenues is challenging at best. Most writing pays rather poorly. For every JK Rowling or Stephen King there's an army of underpaid nobodies barely scraping by.
But I'm not willing to paywall my blogs. It wouldn't accomplish anything good to deny access to poor people who can't afford to pay.
We genuinely need to find ways to fund good writing and pay for the costs involved in disseminating information. Local papers are going out of business left and right and it's a real problem.
But it's also a very real problem to create a system where only the people who already have money are allowed to know our latest, greatest hits of information. Among other things, it also means new ideas cannot be effectively challenged by people from diverse backgrounds, which weakens the information ecosystem.
Until very recently, being illiterate was common, so it's not as if there was a paradise 150 years ago where everyone was an engaged citizen.
There. I've fixed that tweet for you.
Some cultures practice these things, some don't. Also, I assume all cultures can change.
Big breaking story about US politics? New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post all have important articles about it. You find them linked in Google News, reddit, Hacker News, and Facebook. And they're all behind paywalls.
But if you get your "news" from Fox News, Infowars, or even farther extreme sites like Stormfront.... it's free and instantly accessible. This causes some serious problems.
Also, put your money where your mouth is and ban paywalled articles on HN.