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If you have something important to say, don't say it in a paywalled publication (twitter.com)
165 points by hhs 30 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 143 comments

Journalism costs money and I am willing to, and do pay for it. Ivestigative journalism costs even more. Yet it is critical for the existence of a democracy.

"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.

The shady billionaire can continue brainwashing you even after you paid $30 a month, right?

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.

I have a response to this comment which represents the result of 16 months of dedicated research, and will have a positive effect on both the discussion and also the industry as a whole, provided my content gets the attention that it deserves.

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.

This is the problem with news and I don’t know the solution. It’s hard to trust a company that is spending lots of effort explaining how valuable and worthwhile they are.

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.

> Unless there is a micropayment tip jar

Blendle [1] tried this model. It did not work for them. They're now using an all you can eat model.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blendle

What is this logic? There's zero push back when an author sells a book for $20. You want to read the wsj for free? Go to your library where you will also find that $20 book for free.

I doubt it. Why would I believe you?

IMHO no newspaper is independent. Each has an owner that most of the times has a political agenda they try to push. So the best strategy is to read most prominent ones from different countries and create your own conclusion.

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.

Hi, made an account for this reply. I have no idea about DW but I would strongly advise you to take The Guardian with a grain of salt. I’m a (non-US) veteran and from my own personal experience (and personal biases, mind you), The Guardian is way off about its reporting. Will often (as most media) present a certain bias that just makes it impossible for me to trust them on any other subject I’m not involved in. In British journalism, BBC is better imo. However, a bias still exists. NYT’s investigative journalism is also not bad. Addressing the Guardian, I’d say their biggest issue is failing to address previous events that led to the current action. A (fake) example would be: Taliban deployed IEDs outside of a school zone, US retaliated and killed four combatants and two civilians in a drone strike. The Guardian’s headline would be: “US drone strike kills six, two of which civilian”. Is it wrong? No. Is it provoking? Yes, at least in my eyes. The rest of the article would probably discuss the US drone program or the specific event, rather than the chain of events as a whole. The IED incident might not be reported at all prior to the strike. Both the headline and the article itself have a disastrous impact on public opinion.

Actually, Deutsche Welle is the only German public broadcaster that is not funded by the radio fee since it's our international broadcaster. It's just illegal for the government to tell it what to broadcast.

Thanks a lot for correcting me, for some reason I had misremembered that they are also funded by broadcasting fees, but you are right, they are not; they are funded by tax money[1].

[1] https://www.dw.com/en/who-finances-dw/a-36767785

How is a fee the government mandates everyone pay not a tax?

A fee does government collects is tax, if it just mandates to be collected by a non-governmental org is not tax.

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.

More info: https://politics.stackexchange.com/questions/27856/why-is-th...

Thanks for clarifying. I can see how that administrative difference matters. It doesn’t affect the “money out of my pocket” equation but does affect how the money is controlled.

I am guessing it’s similar to Japan’s NHK and their fees.

Sure. I just don’t see how that’s not a tax.

Is it possible that he’s talking about scientific journals? That’s how I understood it.

There's absolutely no reason to pay for scientific journals.

None of the money paid for journals supports research, it all goes to the publishers, who do not share with the scientists.

Yes, in fact, it is usually the case that scientists must also pay in order to be published in them

I thought he was talking about the people posting on Medium

My preferred source of news is one that is created voluntarily or through the support of (mostly grassroots) donors. It will usually be ideological in some way but of course every news source is inherently biased and, this way, at least you are removing a certain strong source of bias, especially if the outlet is non-profit.

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.

Regarding WSJ, Noam Chomsky at one time at least read it, he said he did because their subscribers were people who actually demanded accurate news.

The best way to get people to pay you is to preach to your choir, not to say important things. So the deal is more like "Will you pay me $30 a month to let me feed you information that will entrench your current worldview?". This results in articles like "This is the beginning of the end for Trump" being written every month throughout his entire presidency and there is still no end in sight before the election.

Paying helps, but is no guarantee that you're not the product.

I don’t think anyone can actually afford journalism that’s of decent quality now that classified died and most of print ads. The end result you have to rely on the free stuff where the quality is highly variable.

Having people pay for your news is even better for advertisers, because it shows them how much the readers care about what you write.

How are poor people supposed to get good news? Or are they not supposed to participate in that democracy?

In the era before the internet, they had these printed things called “newspapers”, for which you had to pay money to read, and yet people of all classes of society read them, and got good (indeed, significantly higher quality) news than we get today, and participated in democracy.

So there’s some evidence that “having to pay for news” hardly makes news the domain of the elite few.

Well... yes and no. Not everyone could afford the newspaper on a regular basis, let alone a subscription (Which, where I lived, cost more than it did at the gas station). Regular newspapers were a luxury. You might have been lucky enough to read it at work, though. But you might be stuck with a local newspaper, which varies greatly in quality. One local newspaper was once a week, had no national or state-level news, was fraught with editorial mistakes, but was worth it if you wanted school news or yard sales. Many mid-level papers glossed over national and world news, were heavier on ads, and so on. You really needed to buy a major-city newspaper to stay informed. For me, what you could often find was the Indianapolis paper. Less commonly, the New York Times or even less commonly, the Chicago Tribune.

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.

> they had these printed things called “newspapers”

..which were heavily subsidized, if not outright paid for, by ads.

> ..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.

And if you start paying for an online newspaper, you will still be tracked. Actually, by subscribing you just made tracking you much easier.

A correct observation, unfortunately.

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.

And? Newspapers still cost actual money, running $30+ a month at the newsstand. Paywalled newssites are routinely criticized for charging a fraction of that, and somehow there’s still handwringing that they’re suddenly “depriving the poor of news”

...and therefore, subscriptions do not replace ads. "Ads are evil, buy subscriptions" is the sentiment I was responding to, but it has a subtext that exclusion is OK. It's not OK when you're talking about it as an essential pillar of democracy. The entire voting populace needs access to that information. Ads can give them that, patronage can give them that, government support can give them that, subscriptions can't.

> "Ads are evil, buy subscriptions" is the sentiment I was responding to

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.

> This is plainly contradicted

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.

> Only 14 minutes elapsed between me pointing out that ads made it possible and you pretending that never happened.

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.

I absolutely agree with that sentiment. And if that only affected individuals, I would agree and accept that point.

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.

Maybe journalism can take an open-source approach where the 1% that finds it cost-effective for their business (decision-making in the case you mention) pays for its sustained development and makes it available for free to the 99%.

Open source is the absolute worst business model you could've suggested. Any business that benefits from journalism would keep it as secret as possible so only they can reap the rewards.

I don’t think business model is the right term. But open source consistently produces excellent software. I think better than any commercial software.

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.

You're right that open source in itself is not a business model, but as a community it tends to have a similar set of ways of monetising.

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.

My understanding of what "open source journalism" might mean is something like Wikipedia, which provides pretty reliable information.

The incentive structures are very different and this is the root of the problem. Being successful in 'journalism' is sadly more about connections and being middle class (not saying there isn't exceptions) than anything else which is the very antithesis of Wikipedia contributors.

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.

It's not clear to me that it's necessary to make money from publishing news. Many people contribute to Wikipedia without being paid.

The FT is exceptional in terms of its quality, especially when compared to CNN/ MSNBC/ Fox and even compared to a lot of the NYTs reporting which seems to be entirely focused on politics.

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.

Advertising ruins every medium it ever touches.

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.

Just IMO.

Podcasts run on advertising and there are many good quality ones. Subscriptions are good if you have either massively popular content or massively impactful and insightful content for professionals who can expense it. I think in current day and age it is possible to start making the latter. But you will not become popular without being free.

Advertising starts out okay. But the endpoint is all ads, no content. And the content is very low quality.

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.

But consumers now have the power to block ads, that's something we never really had before (other than fast forwarding through them on TV). This massively evens the power imbalance - if websites keep abusing their customers, bye bye revenue.

We're slowly seeing that happen today.

>Podcasts run on advertising and there are many good quality ones.

And many which are just thin excuses for the promotional break...

> Podcasts run on advertising and there are many good quality ones.

There are also many good quality podcasts that don't use advertising.

These types of podcasts are almost always side money for people with a real job.

Advertising didn't ruin billboards, because they had no other reason to exist. Some of the others would be very different without advertising - radio and TV definitely, newspapers and magazines to lesser degrees. Even the "ad free" sites are not entirely free of advertising. For example, right here. How much of YC's money comes from investing in companies that depend on advertising for their revenue, and how much of that money they're investing comes from people who made their fortunes that way?

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.

I've always figured that advertising should be subject to a pretty heavy Pigouvian tax. (a tax on any market activity that generates negative externalities)

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.

The thing is, the negative externalities are essentially the entire revenue increase, so that's tantamount to a ban.

Pigouvian taxes rarely capture the entire externality just a significant portion of it. In my example I suggested half.

Advertising was taxed heavily, in England, in the early 19th century.

That was eventually repealed, which now seems a poor decision.

Viewed from a different angle "Advertising powers every medium it ever touches."

Viewed from yet another angle "Advertising forms parasitic bonds and makes whatever it attaches to dependent on it for survival"

I guess. But advertising also substantially reduces the quality of the media that it touches.

...when the medium should have been powered by the content and desire to spread it...

But nobody likes advertising. People like that the product is free, and advertising is merely an unpleasant side effect.

Your statement sounds to me about like saying “Exhaust fumes power cars”.

I like advertising. I don't like distractions and I don't like being tracked but I enjoy seeing ads for products in fields I like. I'm old though and throughout the 80s and early 90s subscribed to several magazines in large part to read the ads. I loved the ads in Byte, Creative Computing, Compute!, Wired, the Game Developer Magazine. I learned about all kinds of products I wanted. If all ads on the net somehow were (a) related to the content and (b) no more than static pictures and a link with no tracking I'd still enjoy them.

Let’s not forget that back in the day, geeks use to buy Computer Shopper for the ads. I know I subscribed to InCider and later MacWorld for the ads and would mail out the cards in the back for more information. How else were we going to find out about products we wanted?

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.

I agree, to an extent. Advertising can be overdone, of course.

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.

I don't disagree, but the problem with the paid model is that people need a sense of the value of the item before they buy it. It is hard to sell someone a news product with the promise that it will be worth what they spend.

This approach does work with how-to books (how to program X language), but not with news.

Advertising creates a race to the bottom, that is, the lowest common denominator. It requires watering down of content to be entertaining to the masses, rather than to provide deep insights required by a very small population of eyeballs.

Depends on who your target market is.

If the market is, or can become, the greater public, the race to the bottom is inevitable.

See Mssrs. Barnum and Mencken.

Advertising makes things "free" for users and it's extremely hard to compete with free.

I'm struggling to imagine how advertising could ruin billboards, given that they seem to have no purpose beyond ads?

The idea that somebody should pay to hear me say something I think is important is weird, and the idea that if I have something I think everyone should hear, I should ask them to pay to hear it is weird. I don't have a problem if that simple statement ruins the business model of the 10,000 court stenographers masquerading as journalists, but traditionally, journalism was done by people trying to spread ideas: either the people who came up with those ideas, or the wealthy sponsors of the people who came up with those ideas.

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.

I find it funny that when I try to look at the replies I get a membership wall off. No I don't want to sign up for some new thing just to read some glib self-righteous twitter comments

I don't know if the author of the tweet actually thought through the implications of what they tweeted. They have yet to provide a sensible response to things like book authorship and journalism. Does anyone really think someone like Donald Knuth shouldn't be paid for the work he's done on the Art of Computer Programming?

Well, based off of some of my friends history of pirating books they think are too expensive, yes.

Tech's position on the issue of how to fund journalism online is fundamentally incoherent.

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[1], so they are Evil too.

The only publications that aren't Evil, it turns out, are the ones that are going out of business.

[1] 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.

A third route is to offer journalism or other content for free while soliciting donations. That works for Wikipedia, it works for NPR, and it works for a wide variety of smaller writers and artists through Patreon.

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).

> That works for Wikipedia

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.

Individual public radio stations, and NPR itelf, have different funding mechanisms. Much of NPR's revenue comes from member stations, with details at NPR.

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).

>NPR is also supported by advertising in a big way, we've all just sort of collectively agreed not to call it that.

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.

Love to see software engineers who make $100k plus decide that other people should work for free.

One of my favorite parts of HN is getting to laugh at folks in the Silicon Bubble. The real world is out here, and no, UBI is going to be spent on weed. All of it.

Or rent... (sadly)

From each according to their ability my friend. Digital tech makes ability massive. As long as it’s volunteers it’s not work.

It's important to also recognize that I often see sentiments on HN (not that this is a majority, but often enough that it isn't ultra-downvoted) that journalism as an industry is dying, as it should be because journalism is fundamentally flawed. That is to say, yes, people do believe journalism should die.

The views on ads are something of a self inflicted wound. The deeply negative feelings about online advertising are heavily due to the efforts of journalists. Look at all the stories about advertising privacy issues that pop up here.

There is the NPR, PBS and wikipedia model. Not for profit companies that live off of the public's donations. Also the BBC model

The BBC model is awful. No matter how officially they say they're neutral, they're undeniably biased and it's not even their fault. It's quite obvious that it's impossible to criticise the government neutrally and fairly when you are effectively a branch of government.

It's hard to have more than one BBC in a given country.

> Tech's position on the issue of how to fund journalism online is fundamentally incoherent.

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[1], Pro Publica[2], 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[3] 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[4]. 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.

[1] https://www.motherjones.com/

[2] https://www.propublica.org/

[3] https://doaj.org/

[4] https://www.squarespace.com/pricing

I think there's an important point here, but twitter is a terrible medium for making that point.

Maybe if you have something important to say, don't say it on twitter.

Twitter is basically an excuse to make pithy, sweeping pronouncements rather than nuanced or detailed arguments. An essay on this topic might be interesting and useful, but as a 16-word tweet it's just empty.

"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.

I assume this is just a Tweet with the title as content, but all I see on my phone is a Twitter logo. I guess their JavaScript fest doesn’t always work.

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.)

Is it? I get the idealistic point of view here. You certainly don't want to keep important news from people who can't pay. But I'm not convinced this should be the rule.

Agreed. Important can mean a great many diverse things. If what you have to say is important, but your audience is small and the best way to reach them is a paywalled publication, then this may be the best way to reach them

there is nothing wrong with paying for information. there is nothing wrong with paying for the requests of someone else's labors / effort.

I completely disagree with this statement.

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).

> 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.

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

> 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.

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.

I had taken the statement as referring to scientific publications. There, the publisher isn't the one paying for the work.

(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.

The problem with (some) paywalls is that they also advertise.

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?

What's broken is what you said in your first statement: even if I pay, they tend to also advertise. I also used to pay for a number of local / regional newspapers, but me paying them didn't get me quality journalism in a single transaction, it just got me better access to click-bait a lot of the time, and I got to feel good that maybe I was kinda supporting good press. (I also had a big problem with the fact that despite only wanting a digital subscription, I still got paper copies at my house, but because I wasn't supposed to, I had no way to stop it when I left town and I was stuck with a dozen papers on my driveway when I returned - nice and safe for me. I had to resort to borderline illegal harassing behavior to get them to stop.)

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..

> 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.

Keep in mind that news was (almost worldwide) already in a downtrend before the web. It's more due to low quality content and lack of differentiation by distributing the same low quality text brought from a 3rd party that everybody else.

I see some media working to recover their image nowadays, but low quality is still the norm.

> Either advertise and make it free, or have a paywall subscription model.

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?

Web advertising is evil. If I'm paying someone, I won't accept they imposing it to me.

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.

This is circular reasoning. You essentially answered the question "Why is it OK in one context and not in another?" with "Because it's OK in one context and not in the other."

To break the circle: Why is web advertising categorically evil when print advertising isn't?

My answer to that question is simple: print advertising doesn't spy on me. Online advertising does.

Advertising being bad as a YC take is the most hilariously out of touch thing possible. How many people commenting on this thread work at Google or Facebook, which are the biggest ad machines this planet has ever seen.

I’m curious if Paul is referring to online news, academic publications, or both.

Do you think that news is important? Then he is referring to news.

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.

I think something like the following makes a bit more sense:

"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.

That was how I read it as well. It seems like a logical and self-evident statement.

Why does Paul Graham keep saying that the book "Hackers & Painters" is available for free on his website? I don't seem to be able to find it and neither do any of the other people who are discussing the issue with him.


There's this, but that's a very short book if that's it: http://paulgraham.com/hp.html

The book is an essay collection, so I think he's saying each essay from the book is available on the 'essays' section of his website.

One of the problems with putting important information behind a paywall is that it creates an informational divide between the Haves and Have Nots. This deepens class friction and helps both further leave behind the lower classes and also potentially foment bloody revolution because they aren't getting the memo about important discoveries because they literally can't afford the memo, so it worsens the differences between the mental models of the upper and lower classes. This goes really bad places.

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.

I don't agree. Even the most expensive newspaper (probably the FT) can be bought for $3.00 or so. That's hardly prohibitive.

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.

No, but my understanding is that when the Romans published the code of law publicly somewhere such that anyone capable of reading was capable of knowing their rights without taking the word of their lord and master for it, literacy rates among the lower classes went up dramatically.

"I get so much value from this, it's wrong that I have to pay for it."

it always cracks me up when I visit the website of a "very serious newspaper" and see a critically important op-ed headline about "saving democracy" or "defending life on planet earth" but cannot read the article because they paywalled it. maybe their message isn't really that important?

I guess I am one of those people who hope that if you really say something important it actually will end up getting known whether you are paywalled or not. I also must admit though that this is a feeling and probably countered by statistical evidence.

The Wall Street Journal is mostly paywalled. However, their editorial to support Brett Kavanaugh's nomination was deliberately not paywalled. All good propagandists know this rule.

Also, the Economist and the Financial Times are heavily paywalled. Sometimes, articles are not. I'm curious how rules work with respect to which pieces to "give for free"?

>"If you have something important to say, don't say it in a paywalled publication, NO MATTER much they're paying you."

There. I've fixed that tweet for you.

Then Paul should do something about waaaaay to many links on Hacker News to paywalls. It's killing this site.

I'm assuming that anybody who has ever written a book is in the wrong, then? Because last I checked, books are paywalled...

Kill money through developing needs-based giving economies. Then this becomes a non-issue because paywalls will be seen as quaint toys used by the people who still enjoy playing with money, even though it's worthless.

Every attempt to "kill money" has ended in bloodshed.

That simply means we've found ways that don't work and aren't peaceful. In computer science, we call these anti-patterns.

You're amusing basic human nature (competition, survival of the fittest, nepotism, and yes, greed) can be overcome.

These things are cultural myths. Science doesn't back them up.

Some cultures practice these things, some don't. Also, I assume all cultures can change.

Then why do we see the same trends over and over in history? Just because we're more technologically advanced today, I don't think we're any different as humans. There's survival instinct in all of us and denying it is just ignorant.

It'd be nice if editorials weren't paywalled.

Fake news is never paywalled.

Ha, that's fake news right there.

Is it? I'm trying to think of actual fake news sites with a paywall and I'm drawing a blank. They generally seem to want to cast as wide a net as possible in hopes of catching some gullible rubes and selling them nutritional supplements.

This is one of the biggest problems with news currently.

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.

Ha, Twitter is a paywall publication! You're privacy is the payment!!!

Only context this makes sense in is research paid for from public purse.

Oh shut up Paul. Get over yourself.

Also, put your money where your mouth is and ban paywalled articles on HN.

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