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!

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?”

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?”