Online Journalism: How to Live Well and Make Money

May 21, 2010 • Digital News • by

Adrian Michaels, Group Foreign Editor with the Telegraph Media Group, discusses winning strategies behind the printed press and the Web.

Profitable English daily the Telegraph boasts 40 million readers a month and has a free-access Web site continually investing in conversation and interaction with its readers. In fact, the Telegraph has a highly advanced blog where 40 full-time workers including both journalists and editors contribute. To give just one example, the section devoted to the May 6th general election offers everything: debates with readers, social networks, comments, videos, sophisticated infographics, illustrated representations of political affections in the country, etc.

Why all this on the Web? Because “we pay attention to what the public wants to read” and “because we are in the market to do business and make a profit,” says Michaels. And indeed, the Telegraph is one of the few sites not taking a loss. In this interview Adrian Michaels explains how he sees journalism in the Web era.

What’s your opinion of pay-per-content?

Nowadays each and every organization is working hard to find a type of financing which will be sustainable in the future. Many different proposals on this topic have been made. For example, Alan Rusbridger believes that everything on the Web should be free of charge while Rupert Murdoch recently introduced an online pay system for the two English newspapers the Times and the Sunday Times. And the Wall Street Journal is naturally also moving in the same direction. For Murdoch, the introduction of the pay system represents an about-turn:  when he bought the WSJ he said that the site would be free of charge for users. He has clearly changed his mind. My opinion and that of the Telegraph is that the content should remain free for now.

What about in the future?

We’ll see. To find a good business model which can capitalize on the large readership base we have secured thanks to the Web the Telegraph has set up a brand new unit with 50 people focussed specifically on finding new sources of income.

Tell us more…

For 150 years newspapers have lived off advertising and revenue from distribution. That style doesn’t work any more. But thinking that all we have to do is find a third source is way off the mark. In other words, if you lose one source of income amounting to a loss of 20 million pounds over two or three years, you have to find ten new sources of income of two million pounds each or something like that. This means that you need a business department whose sole mission is to find new models of e-commerce, new ways of making money from advertising, etc.

Is the Telegraph making a profit?

For now the Telegraph is doing much better than its competitors. We are not in the red; we are actually making a profit, something which seems to be rather unusual nowadays. But that doesn’t mean we will remain profitable for long.

How do you see the future for the profession of journalist?

I think that we are in a moment of transition, working on what the future of the media will be. I think it will take around a decade for people to understand that it is worthwhile paying for high quality journalism done by journalists who see this job as a vocation and are paid to do it. At the moment this is certainly not easy also because of forms of free journalism like citizen journalism. But we shouldn’t forget that the Web is not only quality information. Quite the contrary, often there is a whole lot of rubbish on the Web and I think that people are beginning to get tired of having to shift through it all to get to the real news. As regards the future of the profession, that is the challenge for the new economic model. My fear is that there will be a lot more journalists but increasingly few of them will be paid. This will make journalism a much less lucrative profession than in the past.

According to Alan Rusbridger, in 10 years time the Guardian will still be around, and so will journalism. But he’s not so sure about the printed press…

I think he exaggerated on purpose in order to raise awareness of the problem. We said the same thing 10 years ago. I remember that I was in New York in 1999. It was the time of the internet boom and much was being written about how newspapers would fold in a couple of years and about how we would all be buying online…. We would even be doing our supermarket shopping on the Web. Well, the world has changed but we are still here. I am certain that in 10 years time there will still be a place for newspapers but the way they will be used and consumed will change. We’ll see what happens with the iPad and the like but fundamentally I believe that newspapers will survive for some time to come.

Published in Il Giornale, May 6, 2010, by Natascha Fioretti

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