Will paywalls make a significant contribution to resolving the news crisis?
Is it realistic to think (as many people do) that the long awaited introduction of paywalls by major news publishers will contribute significantly towards resolving the news crisis? Or should we consider the possibility that while subscription revenue will definitely contribute towards the viability of news businesses, it will almost certainly not be able to fund quality real news reporting to the general public?
In NZ at present Public broadcasting is increasingly picking up the pieces of a broken news puzzle. The importance of Radio New Zealand in particular as a source of professionally produced high quality public interest news has grown significantly over the past six years - a period during which its budget has been frozen and it has had to resort to selling assets like its grand piano to fund important projects.
NZ on Air also funds public news services on Television principally, but recently also broke its self-imposed ban on funding online news content by contributed some money towards Radio New Zealand's TheWireless.co.nz.
While public funding of news services will doubtless be an important part of the solution to the problems faced by the news media. It is not a panacea. In truth public broadcasters are not truly free - they are an arm of Government and are therefore limited in what doors they can open and what sort of stories they can pursue. Also single, large news edifices are not what news needs. Rather it needs competing bold, free and challenging voices. One can easily imagine a situation in which, as the rest of the media becomes increasingly incapacitated, taxpayer funded news services will become increasingly vulnerable to government interference. Already in NZ and Australia the National Party and the Liberal Party have targeted public broadcasters for cost cutting, presumably because of a perception of liberal bias.
- Alastair Thompson, Scoop Editor & Publisher