The Herald introduces a paywall

I’ve previously blogged that I want to pay for NZ news but no-one would take my money. I’m glad to see the New Zealand Herald has finally introduced a paywall.

I think the paywall is a great development for the media in New Zealand — so much so that I bought a small number of NZME shares after the paywall plans were first announced. It has been delayed for many months, and according to the managing editor may even be 20 years too late.

It’s not at all clear that it’s going to work. As the Spinoff put it: “The NZ Herald is about to put up a paywall and the stakes are scarily high”. So hopefully the whole thing is a success and my money doesn’t go in flames like the rest of the media industry.

Details of the paywall

The premium Herald costs $5 a week or $199 per year, but is free for daily newspaper subscribers. There’s also $2.50 per week introductory offer.

For that price you get access to ‘premium’ content on the Herald website, which is marked by a yellow tag. Behind the paywall you’ll find long-form journalism, opinion pieces, most business news, and syndicated content from various international media including the New York Times, Bloomberg and the Financial Times.

Behind the paywall

I promptly subscribed to the paywall, which was easy seeing as I already had a Herald account, and enjoyed the ‘premium’ stuff on the website. On the first few days a good two-thirds or more of the website seemed to be premium content.

Being a subscriber also means you can sign up to premium newsletters which highlight good stuff to read, and thank you over and over again for being a premium subscriber. I now subscribe to the general premium newsletter, premium business, and non-premium business. These curated newsletters are a good way of picking up stuff you may have otherwise missed.

Is this a good idea?

You already know I think this is a good idea, but I think I’m not exactly representative of the general public. I already subscribe to the New York Times, as well as contribute to Newsroom, E-tangata, Public Address, Bill Bennett, etc through Press Patron. I have  access to the NBR and Newsroom Pro through work. I also follow heaps of NZ journalists on Twitter.

I have taken an active interest in seeing how people react to the idea of the paywall, and it hasn’t been pretty. I’ve seen many a punter violently react to the idea that they should pay for online news. It shouldn’t be a surprise, but people have a lot of ill-feeling towards the online news media, pointing out the trash that’s routinely on the front pages of both the Herald and Stuff to draw people in.

I do know the status quo for funding the news media in NZ doesn’t seem to be sustainable. Even though the media is still pumping out important, quality journalism, almost every outlet seems to be struggling against the fact that their advertising driven business model is going terribly.

So I’m hoping the Herald introducing a paywall is a first step towards recalibrating how people view the media in NZ. Good journalism costs heaps of money to produce, so it’s not tenable for it to be given away free online.

I do worry that the particular way the Herald has designed its paywall will further entrench divisions between the ‘why would I pay for this shit’ camp and the ‘good journalism is worth paying for’ camp, because the average person has no way of seeing what’s behind the paywall. For that reason I favour a ‘you can read 5 free articles a month’ model which allows you to see what you’re missing out on, but the Herald people must have some reason for pursuing their current strategy.

So good luck to the Herald team. There’s a lot riding on this experiment!

Leaving Facebook

I’ve decided to deactivate my Facebook account. The straw that broke the camel’s back was this article in the New York Times which suggested Facebook isn’t taking its privacy problems seriously, and is in fact actively working to dig dirt on its opponents instead of changing its business model.

I want to see how difficult life is without it.

I’ve been feeling uncomfortable keeping my account for a while now, but whenever I thought about the stuff I use Facebook for it keep me there. For example, my book club is a Facebook group so I’ve had to ask them to text me whenever they organise a new meeting.

Even though I’ve deactivated my account I’m still deeply enmeshed in their ecosystem. I’m still on Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp, and I’m sure Facebook’s ad system is still following me around the web (despite my best efforts).

I’m glad I’ve done this and I hope I won’t be back.

Why can’t I subscribe to quality local NZ media?

I would pay for local, digital news, but there are no easy ways to do that. Why is it so hard?

I live in New Zealand where we have two large national newspaper brands: the New Zealand Herald and Stuff.co.nz. (side note: these brands are actually trying to merge at the moment)

I subscribe to the New York Times, but if I want to support a local paper I have unsatisfactory options. Neither of the big NZ brands offer digital subscriptions. Beyond giving local papers ad impressions, the only way to support them is to buy a physical newspaper subscription! Continue reading “Why can’t I subscribe to quality local NZ media?”

Uber becomes (more) legal in NZ

The Land Transport Amendment Bill (No 2) passed its third and final reading in Parliament on 4 August. One of the changes it makes are to ‘small passenger’ service regulations (i.e. taxis). The new rules are expected to come into force on 1 October 2017.

Here are some different perspectives on the change. Continue reading “Uber becomes (more) legal in NZ”

The future of Scoop.co.nz

Screenshot from 2017-05-07 19-04-37

I’ve been meaning for a while to put down in writing my thoughts on Scoop.co.nz. What follows is hopefully constructive criticism.

What is Scoop?

Scoop calls itself an “independent news website” but it’s fundamentally a big collection of press releases. It’s been collecting them since 1999 — mostly from New Zealand — and now has a huge number of historical press releases. The fact that it has all these press releases in one place is really useful. As organisations and companies change their websites these press releases often go missing — so it’s great from a research perspective to have them collated in one place.

Recently Scoop has run into financial problems (seemingly mostly because of the collapsing market for advertising) and has been repeatedly crowdfunding to stay afloat. It has also been transitioning from a “for-profit” company (although losing money) to a non-profit member organisation. Part of this shift involves the Scoop Foundation offering grants for investigate journalism.

Scoop has also introduced what it calls an “ethical paywall”. Basically if you’re a commercial user Scoop expects you to pay for using the website, although there’s no actual paywall stopping you from looking at the content. This strategy seems to have been pretty successful based on the number of organisations paying for a licence.

The website is terrible!

If you go to Scoop.co.nz you’ll see straight away that it has a terrible website. (It’s straight out of the mid 2000s. In fact if you look at a 2006 version of the site, it doesn’t look that different.) There’s far too much going on — too many columns of different content and an overly comprehensive navigation system at the top.

I know Scoop is well aware of this website problem. They have taken the good step of introducing a beta mobile website, but the main website remains seemingly frozen in time.

[Update 13 May — see bottom of the post for details of the new website]

Continue reading “The future of Scoop.co.nz”

Briefly: What’s the value of a free service?

At the New York Times, Patricia Cohen has written an interesting piece on how economic growth measures (e.g. Gross Domestic Product, or GDP) aren’t great at measuring some parts of the economy.

That’s because a country’s GDP doesn’t include goods or services which are ‘free’. For instance, a mother or father who doesn’t work and looks after their kid doesn’t add a dollar to GDP because they aren’t being paid — but they’re performing an immensely valuable service.

Another — increasingly important — GDP blackhole is free digital services:

The growing suspicion, however, is that in a digital world overflowing with free services like Facebook, Google and YouTube, price is an increasingly ill-suited proxy for value.

What is the worth of a free software update that protects against a nasty virus? Of the streaming service that enables you to watch shows on your computer instead of on a television? Of the hours and hours saved by looking up a fact on Wikipedia rather than having to go to a library? All have productive value but no price.

I’ve thought about this problem in relation to free/open source software too. The more people who are using open source software, the lower GDP goes, even if the user is happier than if they’d paid for propriety software.

What are Facebook’s responsibilities as an information gatekeeper?

 By Oliviu Stoian, RO (CC-BY)
By Oliviu Stoian, RO (CC-BY)

I’ve previously written about how Facebook is a sort of quasi monopolistic utility. Part of Facebook’s status as a dominant player is that it has a huge rule in determining what news people see. A few developments in the past few months have raised interesting questions about how Facebook deals with its role as an information gatekeeper.

Humans = bad, robots = good

You have read a while ago that Facebook was in trouble for supposedly showing a left-wing bias in an obscure part of its platform which was curated by human employees. This was not the main newsfeed but a small section called ‘Trending Topics’. In response to the controversy, Facebook switched from having humans curate the topics to using a supposedly more neutral and fundamentally workable algorithm (in other words moving to a newsfeed-like model). Continue reading “What are Facebook’s responsibilities as an information gatekeeper?”