1. Subscription news will inevitably skew partisan. The journalistic code of objective news is a legacy from last century. With only three national TV stations and at most a handful of newspapers per city, news gatekeepers had monopoly power. And that power led to a journalistic code of balance, showing two sides to every story. What Jay Rosen calls the view from nowhere. Fine. This gloss of impartiality was helpful in its day, and clearly in the public interest. But what’s less obvious is a second support for the view from nowhere: advertising. Journalism funded by advertising created powerful financial incentives to reach a mass audience and exclude no one. These two great pillars supporting journalism’s (now stubbornly legacy) culture have crumbled to dust. The internet took away the news monopoly. And now is taking away advertising. Moving journalism towards subscriptions. And don’t get me wrong. Subscriptions are great! A viable way to support news in our internet age. With an honorably history going back to the earliest subscription print magazines. But let’s not fool ourselves. The subscription model, like the loss of monopoly, skews incentives strongly towards having an actual point of view. That is, towards partisanship. The hard job of today’s journalists is to exercise the omniscient ghost Walter Cronkite, still haunting our newspaper dreams. And instead find an honest kind of partisanship appropriate for today. Perhaps, if so inclined, attempting highbrow partisan. Say the Jacobin (subscription since 2010) or The Economist (subscription since 1843, predating the 20th century mass media era!). And with that, here’s Alex Tabarrok:
I’d add one more factor to Potter’s analysis. Since the advertisers care about eyeballs, advertisement-funded media are incentivized to produce more eyeballs. Such incentives tends to encourage lowest-common-denominator entertainment but also more political balance. Subscription-funded media, in contrast, face a tradeoff: subscribers want content that supports their world view so moderating the content to appeal to a larger audience will likely reduce the price that any one reader is willing to pay. Revenues are therefore larger with a smaller but more political extreme audience.