I’m increasingly of the view that much of the debate about the future of newspapers is far too much about technology and far too little about trust.
The technological changes and challenges are certainly big, striking and interesting. But when it comes to addressing the question of people increasingly turning to free sources of news only one half of the equation (the availability of free news) is usually thought about. The ignored other half of the equation is how, even without free alternatives, paid for news looks pretty unattractive to many people when journalism is one of the least trusted professions in the country.
If you don’t trust journalists, you might as well get their output for free if there are ready alternatives available. But conversely, increasing trust in your journalists could give a media outlet a niche that helps fuel a business model.
After all, why do people pay for news from the FT online? It’s both because it has content that others don’t – and because its readers trust that content to be accurate. A newspaper with the financial content of the FT but the reputation for accuracy of a down market tabloid wouldn’t be able to sell access to its content in the same way.
Of course, trust issues didn’t start with the internet – though the ready availability of online commentary questioning the accuracy of stories may have exacerbated them. So this piece from Jon Bounds particularly caught my eye:
What strikes me is that, while the decline [in regional newspaper circulation] starts to happen consistently with widespread internet adoption, there are huge drops in years before that, including 1993; before the world wide web. Something was up with what the regional press was offering long before people started getting news online — and local news online provision lagged behind that of national (certainly in Birmingham where it’s only been about a year since the local papers started to publish properly on the web).