As progressives, we have an obligation to mitigate the regressive nature of paywalled local media
Subscription-based access to news is inherently regressive because it costs a proportionally greater amount from those on lower income.
Some outlets have chosen the membership model because it avoids limiting access to journalism. But the paywall model will likely stick around for a while, as it has proven extremely useful for national media like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
A regressive business model for journalism means that not everyone will be able to afford (Your Outlet Here), even if they believe (Right Makes Might|No Fear of Favor|Democracy Dies in Darkness|etc).
Not only do these people deserve as much of our attention as newsrooms, arguably they deserve more, inasmuch as one embraces the progressive nature of journalism.
Inasmuch as journalism is a progressive force, it is extremely problematic to conceive theories of change that are prompted by forces outside a community, rather than theories of change that explore how outcomes could be achieved from within a community. This is the key problem with coverage of wicked problems like youth gun violence and the opioids crisis, where the communities most affected are least able to afford to read the journalism.
Paywalled media is probably here to stay, but there remains ample opportunity to create programs and packages that lengthen the price curve to better accommodate low income people.
Perhaps for starters an academic rate like the NYT, although in most cases someone who qualifies for this rate would already have access through their educational institution or a third-party database. Many news organizations also have programs to distribute copies to schools for use.
I’m more interested though in how local media could use existing social services and credentialing to let other bureaucracies deal with the thorny question of who should receive access to a reduced or free subscription. For example, Pennsylvania has a one-stop shop for services called COMPASS. How might local newspapers create a process to let SNAP (food stamp) card-holders (or any other definable demographic) access preferential pricing?
By exploring progressive pricing models, news organizations will be able to satisfy both their business objective to transition to a new business model, without jeopardizing the social missions that define progressive journalism.
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H.L. Mencken’s “Life of Kings” quote does the industry a disservice and in this column I argue that publishers should use an older framework, noblesse oblige, to better understand their social obligation.
Old but new to me.
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