HBO’s John Oliver rants about future of newspapers; his solution off-base

memorable tirade about the future of newspapers and the dire state of journalism by HBO host and comedian John Oliver is worth 19 minutes if you can swing it.

I like much of what Oliver said and especially loved his little vignette at the end on how things may go – riffing off the movie Spotlight. I have a few issues with his conclusion though.

John Oliver of HBO rants on the future of newspapers

HBO’s John Oliver

Some of Oliver’s points:

  • shrinking and closing of newspapers affects all of us
  • television reporters base many of their stories on ideas researched by print reporters
  • the reason consumers are not paying is the papers reduced what they offer whle raising prices
  • his conclusioin is that we consumers are the root of the problem as we’re loath to pay for news, now that we’ve found it for free on the web.

This last point riles me. News is now available for free online. Technology has made this possible – jusst like it’s made Uber and Air BnB possible – it’s a fact of life.

News organizations are running businesses. If they have a product or service I find attractive, I’ll pay for it. So far I haven’t found many I like. So I use what’s available for free. As do most people apparently!

I don’t appreciate being made to feel guilty for reading news for free when the news orgs are offering it to me that way.

I do value reading the Vancouver Sun digital edition – it’s a snapshot of the daily print newspaper. Reading this version online means I avoid getting ink on my hands, I don’t have to carry mine to the curb and they print fewer newspapers. Silly small points perhaps (well, except the last one), but enough to get me to pay.

I contend that if the news organizations made something that was substantially different from what we see for free online, we’ll pay.

Ken Doctor puts it well in a recent piece in his site Newsonomics.

For most daily publishers, the business logic is counterintuitive — cut the news staff in half and charge twice as much for the remaining output — and consumers have responded understandably by walking away.

Don’t cut reporters, offer less, then put that product behind a paywall. Give us something more. The New York Times‘ smartphone product does all this, according to Doctor – yet few other news orgs are borrowing from it.

The future of newspapers could be bright. The news-reading, news-needing public is waiting – credit cards in hand – for something worth paying for.




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