That is the only conclusion a reasonable person can reach reading this new Pew Foundation report. Paywalls are anathema. Nobody clicks on ads. The value of news is zero dollars and zero cents. The future of news is awesome.
In the great paywall debate, a number of big names have come down in favor: For example, The Wall Street Journal and, soon, The New York Times. The idea is that the content provided by these publications is so special and good that consumers would be willing to spend money for access to Tom Friedman's latest column over, say, a pack of AA batteries. Is the Sunday Styles worth more to Americans than the approximate amount of change they lose each day from tripping and having it spill out of their pockets? The Pew Foundation's Project for Excellence in Journalism's 2010 survey says: No.
Just 15 percent of those surveyed say they would still visit their favorite news site if it was behind a paywall. 82 percent would "find somewhere else." Now, either those 82 percent count the Yahoo! homepage as their favorite news site—in which case, yes, you can find a list of the Top 10 Vacation Destinations to Save Your Failing Marriage anywhere—or the vast majority of people see news as basically words arranged on a screen in a way that makes some sort of sense—in which case, faceless newsborg, you can take my job now. (To be fair, as the Times notes, many news sites believe they could survive if just 5 to 10 percent of their readership jumped the paywall. Have fun with that!)
Big deal, though, right? Everyone knows Internet users are so cheap that 25 people are currently downloading the Haiti Benefit CD on The Pirate Bay. We'll just keep on with good old advertising—been there since the first journalist picked up his quill pen, wrote something racist about Indians and Johnson's Curative Tonic bought a 4x5 above-the-fold. Except... ads do not work either: 79% of users "rarely if ever clicked on an online ad," according to the report. Oh, and there's this:
There is no way to make money on news because news is worth nothing to readers and it is becoming worth less to advertisers. But the report is not all bad (worthless) news. For example "The notion that the news media are shrinking is mistaken"! Alright! Oh. Wait:
Reportorial journalism is getting smaller, but the commentary and discussion aspect of media, which adds analysis, passion and agenda shaping, is growing - in cable, radio,
social media, blogs and elsewhere.
The future of journalism: Facebook wall rants, celebrity tweets, Glenn Beck and the blogs that talk about these things. But it's all freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
[Charts courtesy of Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism]