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The future of the media

How can media organisations survive and thrive in a rapidly changing digital environment? How can media outlets build products and services that people will pay for, while at the same time incentivise good journalism?

These are some of the questions researched by 28-year-old University of Auckland Business School alumnus Korey Te Hira as part of his Master in Public Policy degree at Harvard University.

Korey, who was born and raised in Auckland, began investigating ways media organisations could develop new sustainable revenue streams. He was interested in the topic because of the disruption that has buffeted online media, with advertising revenue alone no longer being sufficient for many organisations to survive.

While completing an applied thesis at Harvard, Korey worked with The Young Turks Network – the world’s largest online news company – to analyse ways of successfully monetising audiences. One method is through introducing paywalls to drive subscription revenue. But this raises ethical questions concerning who can and cannot access the information.

“One of the main issues with heading down the path of subscription services,” says Korey, “is always going to be that only people who can afford them will have access to quality information, which is a concern.”

Fortunately, as he points out, paywalls do not mean all content is only for those who pay. “Some paywalls allow access until the fifth or tenth article without subscribing before they limit access, others leave some content areas free and restrict others,” he says.

While acknowledging that many people do not like paywalls, Korey suggests they allow digital media to be more sustainable, and for those who can afford it, offer a refined service.

“Take YouTube,” he says. “Many people happily pay for ‘Premium’ in order to have an ad free experience.” A superior user experience, Korey states, is just one tactic digital publishers could use to motivate more people to subscribe. Other tactics Korey identified through his research include the subscription providing access to a community of like-minded people via in-person events, connections to complementary products and services and promoting subscriptions as a way to support a cause the audience cares about.

“As consumers, we must decide if we want to wade through clickbait to find genuine news or instead support media outlets who make it worthwhile subscribing. But publishers must do more than simply block off some content and assume revenue will begin flowing. It is much more complex, and interesting, than just throwing up a paywall.”

“An example is the success of the New York Times. They produce content accessible only to members, while they are also supporting a cause. They are part of a movement tasked with maintaining high-quality journalism – subscribers become part of that community. The New York Times also offers complimentary services like their extremely popular crossword. In fact, a lot of people subscribe simply for this,” says Korey.

“A healthy society needs a flourishing media to support democracy. To this end we need to be creative and open about new ways for the media to operate,” he says.


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