There’s no easy answer, but I’ll touch on some of the bigger issues.
I’d reject the premise of the question to a certain extent. Readers do pay for journalism and public service journalism – not all readers, admittedly, but people are still buying newspapers, albeit in lesser numbers. There are some models that are working – the FT, The Times and News UK all have very successful paywall models, for example, and they do provide public service journalism. We also pay a license fee to the BBC, and those models are replicated in other countries around the world. So people are still paying for journalism to an extent.
I think the broader thrust of the question is, what happens to everybody else? What happens to local newspapers, what happens to popular presses that are struggling to make a living? There are no easy answers. You can’t force readers to pay for news – that’s the simple bottom line answer. But what you can do is look around the outside, at other models that might fund journalism – such as philanthropy. Or subscriptions like what the Guardian are doing.
“There was a very simple model for 150-odd years, where the reader paid a small amount and all the readers together funded good journalism. That’s gone, and it’s not coming back.”
We won’t be able to provide public service journalism, in the longer term, on the scale we have been providing it up until now. Local newspapers are dying – they’re in absolute crisis. And they will disappear. There’s various interventions trying to save it. In France, for example, they’ve tried government preventions, and Google have introduced grants to fund local journalism. The BBC are funding 150 places for local public service journalists in local newspapers – all of those things help.
But at the end of the day, there was a very simple model for 150-odd years, where the reader paid a small amount – a penny, a pound, whatever it was – and all the readers together funded good journalism. That’s gone, and it’s not coming back. And we haven’t got a simple solution for how we’re going to do it in the future.
“I think you’ll see tech companies – partly out of a sense of moral responsibility, partly out of them being shamed into it – doing more because they’ll have to.”
There’s a whole range of things that could happen, and philanthropy’s one of them – things like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I think you’ll see tech companies – partly out of a sense of moral responsibility, partly out of them being shamed into it – doing more because they’ll have to. And I think for some, paywalls will work. And for others, to a certain extent, advertising might work. But it’s very, very limited, because of the fact that advertising digitally doesn’t pay enough money to fund that kind of journalism. Decent journalism is expensive.