Recently my uni invited various bigwigs from the magazine industry to chat to me and my fellow journalism students. Among the luminaries on the panel, were the Huffington Post UK's very own blogs' editor Jody Thompson, and the Editorial Director of IPC Media, Steve Sutherland. One of the questions the panel were asked was whether they thought there was any future in magazines. Steve replied that it wasn't whether there was a future in magazines we should worry about, but who was going to pay the journalists.
The current debate over the Telegraph Online's new paywall reminded me of this.
I'm in two minds over this. On the one hand, as the type of left leaning liberal politico that only a twenty one year old can be, I would quite like all forms of media to be like the NHS, free at point of access. But that's also the part of my brain that reckons we should do away with money in its entirety and head back to the barter system.
On the other hand, the more rational part of my brain is saying that that can't possible work. Besides, to paraphrase one of my favourite YouTube vloggers, in the future I'd quite like a roof over my head, and to eat food that isn't super noodles.
Journalism is changing, rapidly. That's why my course is giving me the skills to work in print, in broadcasting and on the internet. Now I want to work in print in the sense that I would like to work for newspapers or magazines. I'm a writer, by both preference and skill. But I'm also not stupid enough to assume that when I graduate the print side of the business will be the same as it is now. Local newspapers are rapidly disappearing, and with the exception of the i, all the major newspapers have seen a massive drop in circulation since January last year. If I want to work for newspapers, it's probably going to have to be online.
As mentioned above, I would quite like to have a house and food in the future, and just because things have been moved online, doesn't mean that there will suddenly be loads of money freed up to pay people. The savings made on printing costs won't cut it. You still have to pay rent on the buildings, maintenance on the servers, and pay all the people who aren't necessarily journalists, - lawyers and photographers for example.
The world wide web is supposed to be free. That's why Tim Berners-Lee never patented it. He didn't want to put it beyond the use of anyone. But that spirit of altruism makes it difficult for people who are hoping to make money from it. Advertising, however lucrative, will not cover all the costs that running a newspaper incurs. We also forget that the newspaper business is just that, a business. It's about telling people about what's going on, but it's also about making a profit. If you can't do it solely off advertising, you have to find another way. Pay walls, are that other way.
Do I like it? No.
Is this the way it's going to have to be so we can have newspapers in the future? Yes.
Really, it all comes down to money in the end.