Do paywalls have to work for journalism to survive?

There has never been a mass market for good journalism in this country. What there used to be was a mass market for print ads, coupled with a mass market for a physical bundle of entertainment, opinion, and information; these were tied to an institutional agreement to subsidize a modicum of real journalism. In that mass market, the opinions of the politically engaged readers didn’t matter much, outnumbered as they were by people checking their horoscopes. This suited advertisers fine; they have always preferred a centrist and distanced political outlook, the better not to alienate potential customers. When the politically engaged readers are also the only paying readers, however, their opinion will come to matter more, and in ways that will sometimes contradict the advertisers’ desires for anodyne coverage.

Clay Shirky – Newspapers, Paywalls, and Core Users

This isn’t the shortest read on the topic, but Clay Shirky dissects the challenges that Newspapers are facing better than anyone. The core problem is that if paywalls are to work (which they must do for classical journalism to survive), newspapers need to acknowledge that their audience has fundamentally shifted (and shrunk).

It’s interesting that Crikey has pretty much nailed this model, and New Matilda is battling hard to make it work. Due to our size, I wouldn’t be surprised if Australia manages to be the first country to emerge with a working model of new journalism.

- January 2012