Subscription cannot be the only business model for journalism to survive

This week I learned that my previous employer, the Global Editors Network, had been shut down. Like I said on Twitter, I loved working right in the center of the media industry crisis: advertising revenues shrinking, fierce competition for subscribers’ money, misinformation and distrust, platforms-dependency, &c. This crisis has many, many faces and it is just sad to see one organisation like GEN — who was trying to help journalism — close doors like so many other journalism entities, mostly newspapers.

The topic of journalism sustainability is obviously very close to my heart, and the other day I stumbled upon this very good post by the journalist David Bauer, currently head of visuals at the Swiss newspaper NZZ, in which he lists “challenges, questions, assumptions” around the media industry. Every entry of this list had me nod in agreement; this point in particular is worth noticing:

Media organisations need sustainable business models, but (hard) paywalls are at odds with maximum impact and public service, especially for less affluent people. How can we make it work for all sides?

Exactly. Subscription cannot be the only business model for journalism to survive. Affordable and accessible news have to be quality news too. In a recent interview, the Information’s Jessica Lessin said:

Getting existing and new news organisations to see [subscription] as a path for them is really important to me because I really feel it’s how premium content journalism will survive.

I really admire Lessin’s success with the Information, and I am very interested in their upcoming product, Ticker, but I hope “premium content journalism” will be something limited to a few organisations or specific verticals, like tech and business news; another business model ought to be successful for newspapers. I believe that’s why Lessin says “a path” and not “the path.”

Like Bauers writes: “How can we make it work for all sides?” Indeed, a journalism split between “premium content” and “regular content” would not, in my opinion, serve the purpose of journalism well.