Tear down your paywall before the 2024 election.
That demand was issued by Tara McGowan, founder and publisher of the Courier Newsroom, during a forum sponsored by The New Republic.
McGowan argued that news sites should take down their paywalls for their election coverage, and develop new business strategies to cover the loss of revenue.
Depending on your politics, don’t be put off by the title of this event: The Stop Trump Summit. Courier Newsroom specifically supports Democratic candidates. For our purposes, we’ll concentrate on the paywall issue.
“I do not disparage paywalls,” McGowan told The New Republic. “However, if your mission and the reason that you exist is to inform the public … you have got to figure out a way to make the most important information your audiences need to be informed citizens and informed and engaged voters available for free.”
While observing that Trump makes money for news sites, McGowan argued, “A lot of news organizations have not evolved to meet people where they are on social media platforms because they don’t have a way of monetizing that.”
Paywalls can be annoying, especially if you’re researching a critical topic on a site that you normally wouldn’t visit. Sites should be able to spot one-time visitors and perhaps ask them to register and offer them a free newsletter: The technology to do that does exist, and many publishers use it.
One promising model is that of The Guardian, which provides news free to all readers, while encouraging donations and offering a digital subscription for its premium app features.
Yes, paywalls make money. But many people can’t or won’t pay for them. And sites, especially at local newspapers, are especially unforgiving.
“We’re able to survey and analyze voter turnout records of audiences to see if the people who get our news on social media are more likely to vote, compared to the ones who don’t have the same demographic, and then we do the same thing for our email newsletter program,” McGowan said.
Some newsletter subscribers only get lifestyle content, and some political coverage. All are surveyed.
For newsletters, the newsroom gathers a small number of subscribers, and political reporting is then removed from their newsletters so they just get lifestyle content, and then they are surveyed. There’s also an audience that only receives the political reporting, and they are surveyed as well.
We promised to avoid political talk here. But McGowan offered this commentary on the state of coverage:
“[Editors and reporters are] thinking about balance in their reporting as ‘I need to give as much space in my article to both sides of an argument,’ even if one side is not accurate,’” she said, according to The New Republic. “And when you only inform people about the bad things, then you are contributing to cynicism and mistrust in government, and that’s really bad for democracy.”
People in either political party would probably agree with that.