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New publication: who will pay for online news?

The Journal of Media Business Studies has now published my new research article “The free-to-fee transition: audiences’ attitudes toward paying for online news“. The article is co-authored with Morten Boeck, Jakob Vikær Hansen, and Lars Juul Hadberg Hauschildt and builds, empirically, upon research they did for their master thesis in 2013 (I was the supervisor of this thesis*).

In the article, we present a study of audiences’ attitudes toward and willingness to pay the subscription, which Danish omnibus newspaper Politiken launched on its news website politiken.dk in May, 2013.

Here’s the abstract:

After more than a decade of giving online news away for free, legacy newspaper organisations in many Western countries have recently begun charging audiences for access to online journalistic content. Focusing empirically on a Danish case, this article uses one survey (n = 1054) and two focus groups to examine audiences’ attitudes towards paying for online news. The analysis suggests that audiences’ general principles regarding paying for online news influence their willingness to pay more than the size of the subscription fee. Furthermore, the analysis shows that younger audiences’ willingness to pay increases if they can combine content from different news providers and thereby individualise their news products. The latter in particular can have practical implications as it presents a way forward for economically challenged legacy newspaper organisations, but it might also compromise the democratic ideals of journalism.

The article is, ironically, published behind a paywall, but I can send you an early version upon request.

* Students often do a lot of good work in their master theses, and it is in the final instance paid for by the tax payers (through the Danish system of free access to higher education) who can also use it for something, but it rarely reaches a larger audience than the people who have an obligation to read it – the author, the examiners, and the mothers or partners who cannot say no to proof-reading the final copy. With this article, I am happy to have helped some of the high-quality student-conducted research get out to the public.

Readings roundup, 07/31/15

As I wrote last week, I will try my best to post every Friday a list with links to the best things I have read online during the week (or at least the things that I enjoyed reading, even if I disagree with them). Pressing “publish” in a moment, I continue to fulfill that ambition, and I hope my lists will be useful for other than myself as well. As always, the topics are what interests me – but primarily, it has to do with media, all things digital, and current affairs. And as always, the articles are not necessarily published within this week (there is some old stuff on the list below).

Here goes:

 

Readings roundup, 07/24/15

This post is somewhat an experiment for me and (hopefully) the first in a long series. It is more an outline of good intentions than the fulfillment of them – that will (hopefully, if I am persistent enough) come down the line.

The thing is, I read a lot online, but then later I forget where it was that I read that great article about topic X… In order to help myself remember and keep track of the great resources out there, my aim onwards is to round up on a weekly basis the best online readings from the last week. This might also be of interest for other than myself, which is why I put it on my blog instead of just in a notebook, and as I will post it on Fridays, this could be your list of what to read during the weekend.

The articles are about what interests me (and hopefully also the people who read this blog): all things digital, the news media, journalism, research, innovation, technology, society, etc. There are no fixed categories, but these topic tend to be what constitute my reading diet. On some weeks, the list will be short or even close to non-existing, on some it will be long. And do also note that the articles on the list may not have been published the week I mention them – but that will have been the week I read them, and I still think they are worth reading.

So, here it is, my roundup of the best things I have read online this week (in no particular order):

Theorizing (changes in research into) cultural policy

Earlier this month, I attended the 2nd International Conference on Public Policy (ICPP) in Milan. For thoughts on the conference as such, I recommend Raul Pacheco-Vega’s blog post about his experiences at the conference – the purpose of this post is somewhat different, namely to try to structure some thoughts that I have had since the conference and, thereby, hopefully continue and contribute to the specific discussion I was part of in Milan. (Comments are most welcome below.)

My paper ”Media Policy Responses to the Convergence of News Media Sectors in Denmark” was part of a 13-paper panel on cultural policy organized by Kate Mattocks (City University London) and Lisa Marx (University of Geneva). Mattocks and Marx did a very good job in putting this panel together, and I think everybody learned something from the presentations and discussions.

The most important discussion arose after the section where I presented (but not because of me, I must emphasize!). Here, Clive Gray from Warwick University served as discussant, and instead of offering feedback on the presented papers (which is the normal approach in that situation), he took one step back and asked why all the papers were studies that explored some small instance of cultural policy in some concrete setting instead of asking larger questions about what cultural policy is for, what it is in the first place, and what is actually at stake in the contexts of the studies. I cannot remember the exact way he phrased his critique, but I think it is fair to say that he would have preferred more work that offered critical reflection on these questions than the papers in the panel had done so far.

Gray is right that we might be prone to focus more on “small” empirical studies, where we subject some piece of policy to intense scrutiny, and thereby miss the bigger picture – namely the question about what cultural policy really is, what its consequences are, and how different actors with different interests use the very concept of culture in very different ways. “All uses of the concept of culture can be both attacked and defended”, Gray asserted in his own presentation; cultural policy is a contested area where opposing views and interests compete for discursive hegemony as well as practical influence.

I know Gray intended to be provocative and kickstart an important discussion, so I will just put it out there for the record that while I agree with his overall point, I also think that we should avoid neglecting the value of empirical studies of even very small cases; the larger discussion about “culture” is important, but if we do not have a firm grounding in empirical data and interpretations of them, we risk disconnecting the normative discussion from the facts. But I do not disagree with Gray that we need more critical thinking about the very idea of culture and the implications of using that concept in the ways that we do (Raymond Williams famously called culture “one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language“).

What I think would be a most interesting direction to move forward, however, would be to apply Gray’s ambition of addressing the bigger questions to the very tendency of smaller studies.

Rather than lament the absence of papers that asks grand questions about what culture and what cultural policy is, we should ask why 12 in 13 papers in the panel was of an empirical nature. Is it because it is considered easier to do empirical work than to develop theory? Is it because the “publish or perish” paradigm of higher education organizations grants primacy to this type of academic activity, which is often faster to do and can result in more journal articles (which, again, is particularly important for junior scholars who do not yet have tenure)? Is it because we cannot all think the big thoughts?

And is it really a bad thing – or is it necessary for the theoretical development of the field to have these empirical studies to rest upon?

So, while we look forward to the 3rd International Conference on Public Policy in 2017, it might be fruitful to start theorizing not only culture and cultural policy but also the current tendencies in cultural policy research.

New grants for research into cultural criticism and media economics

These weeks have been very good in terms of getting funding for future research.

First, I am part of a research project called “From Ivory Tower to Twitter: Rethinking the Cultural Critic in Contemporary Media Culture“, which succeeded in landing 6.2 m DKK from the Danish Council for Independent Research. The collaborative project is headed by Nete Nørgaard Kristensen from the University of Copenhagen and aims at exploring current changes and transformations in the practice, authority, and status of cultural criticism and critics. It is a project, I and some of the other participants have been working on for a couple of years, actually, in different constellations (e.g., in the international research network Cultural Journalism in the Nordic Countries) and in connection with a coming special issue of Journalism Practice (more on that in a later post), but this large grant is a game-changer in terms of pushing this research agenda forward.

In addition to Kristensen and myself, the research group consists of Unni From (Aarhus University), Helle Kannik Haastrup (University of Copenhagen), Erik Svendsen (Roskilde University), Troels Østergaard (The Danish School for Media and Journalism), and one PhD fellow.

Second, I participate (though much more peripherally) in a Norwegian research project called “Digitization and Diversity – Potentials and challenges for diversity in the culture and media sector“. This project is housed by the Centre for Creative Industries at the Norwegian Business School in Oslo and landed 15 m NOK for researching (among other things) the business models of digital news over a three-year period. My part in this project is a minor one, but the grant will fund at least a one month stay as Visiting Fellow in Oslo.

Both of the projects deal with subject matters, which are already on my research agenda, and so the new funding does not fundamentally change my priorities. What they do is that they improve the working conditions and offer new possibilities – and they also allow me to go back to Oslo for an extended period of time, which was most rewarding for me last time.

So, happy times and bright outlooks. Have a nice summer, everyone.

Interviewed on media innovation research

These weeks, I am at the Centre for Research on Media Innovations at Oslo University on a visiting fellowship. It is great, and I will write a blog post on it later when I get home to Denmark.

As a part of the visit, I was interviewed on Twitter about my research yesterday. (The interview was conducted by the centre’s official Twitter profile but with Ida Karine Gullvik at the keyboard.) Here, I have put together the whole interview so it can be read as one conversation rather than a number of scattered tweets.

Enjoy – and join the conversation.

Tweeps all Danish j-students should follow

Almost three years ago, I compiled a list of the best Danish Twitter profiles about #journalism. But things move fast online, so I thought now was the time to put together a new and updated list – and also tied it close to the list that was the inspiration for the original listing, namely Sarah Marshall’s list of “100 Twitter accounts every journalism student should follow“.

So, here it my list of 15 people on Twitter, every (Danish) journalism student should follow – either because they might know where the profession and the media business is heading or simply because they often say something meaningful of interest:

Furthermore, the Danish journalism students should follow the hashtags #SDUjour, #rucjour, and #DMJX which are used on the journalism educations.

Who did I forget?

Update April 16, 2015: In the discussion following the publication of this list, two Twitter accounts have been mentioned as someone I forgot but who rightfully deserves special mentioning:

So, now it’s a list of 15 + 2 Twitter accounts

My PhD dissertation available now

Just a public service announcement: I have now made my PhD dissertation News on the Web: instantaneity, multimodality, interactivity, and hypertextuality on Danish news websites available here on my website. As most of it is already published and the data aren’t getting any younger, there really is no point in not having it out there.

A large part of the dissertation consists of research articles, and most of those are now published in academic journals (in more or less revised versions):

Furthermore, parts of the theoretical introduction is commissioned as a book chapter for publication next year. I’ll post more on that here on the blog later.

If you want the printed-book version, it is for sale at Publikom at the price of 172.50 DKK (approx. 32 Euros/31 USD). For some reason, they haven’t added the dissertation to their online catalogue even though they sell it, so you’ll have to send them en email.

New publication: the state of online news

A piece of good news from the publications department: my new research article “Online news: between private enterprise and public subsidy” has just been published by the leading academic journal Media, Culture & Society. The article is co-authored together with Stig Hjarvard from the University of Copenhagen and examines the current economical state of the Danish press in light of recent developments with digital business models and changes subsidy frameworks and is part of a special section (edited by Philip Schlesinger and Alex Benchimol from the University of Glasgow) on media systems in small nations.

Here’s the abstract:

The Nordic countries’ media systems are exemplary of the democratic corporatist model, and newspapers have occupied a very prominent position in the political public sphere supported by wide circulation and a political will to subsidize the press and still keep an arm’s length distance. During past decades, these features have come under pressure due to – among other things – the spread of digital media. In this article, we explore two current structural economic challenges to legacy newspaper organizations in Denmark. The first challenge regards the implementation of subscription on news websites since 2013. The second challenge concerns the revision of the Danish press subsidy law in 2013–2014. The introduction of a ‘platform neutral’ subsidy law could be interpreted as a first step toward rethinking the entire press subsidies system. Taken together, these developments pose serious challenges to the printed press: on the one hand, no viable business model seems ready to replace the old one; on the other hand, a reorientation of the regulatory system, which subsidizes the press, seems under way. Despite the global nature of ongoing transformation (digitalization and commercialization), national particularities continue to influence developments and reflect continued support for the democratic corporatist model.

The article is published behind a paywall, but I can send you an early version upon request.

Jimmy Maymann, bringer of good news

This week, a superstar toured the Danish media organizations: Jimmy Maymann, the CEO of the Huffington Post. I had the privilege of attending his talk at the Centre for Journalism at the University of Southern Denmark (where I work) and of spending nearly one hour in an exclusive conversation with him and Gerd May and Filip Wallberg from Fynske Medier (an organization I’m currently researching).

Maymann, who is born and raised in Denmark, has a convincing case for what news organizations should do in order to make it in the digital age. While most of the news industry struggles (some even for survival), the Huffington Post thrives. The company currently has 10 national editions outside of the US, has more than 100 million unique visitors per a month, and is making money. In 2012, the Huffington Post was the first online-only medium to win a Pulitzer Prize.

From my point of view, there are a couple of reasons why Huffington Post performs extremely well.

  • They use data – a lot. It’s not that they only produce the journalism the readers want, such as slideshows of puppies and celebrities in awkward situations, but the presentation and the timing of the content is highly informed by user metrics. All journalists have dashboards to follow how their stories perform and are expected to use that information. Headlines are tweaked through A/B testing (or actually rather A/B/C/D/E/… testing).
  • They understand digital media. And have (so far successfully) thrown a large part of their chips into the baskets of social media, video, and mobile, and they acknowledge the importance of search-engine optimization even of the micro-level of the individual journalist’s everyday work.
  • They have momentum. They are expanding internationally (and enter the Indian market later this month). The Huffington Post is one of the places to be in the media business right now, so they are able to attract the best journalists whose mindset match the organization’s.
  • They get a lot of high-quality content for free. According to Maymann, the Huffington Post currently have around 80,000 blogs where, for example, experts and politicians contribute with content. That’s a very good base for generating traffic.
  • They “fail fast”. In its organizational mindset, the Huffington Post is intent on testing things – and that means that sometimes, things don’t work as well as expected. What the Huffington Post does right here is to accept such failure quickly, adapt to it, and move forward with that lesson learnt in the organization.

During the first two days of his visit in Denmark, Maymann had (recounting from my memory) at least six or seven professional engagements where he would talk about the success of the Huffington Post. In one sense, he’s an evangelist in a media business under pressure. ‘Evangelist’ comes from the Latin word ‘euangelion’, which means ‘good news’, and so an evangelist is, in the original meaning of the word, a bringer of good news.

If anything, Jimmy Maymann is considered by the Danish media a bringer of good news. He represents the hope that the current demise of media organizations can be turned around and that they can succeed. This perception of him – combined with the general tendency of Danes being interested in other Danes who have made it big abroad – means that Danish media have had a lot of interviews with Maymann on the news business, career, and entrepreneurship.

Ekstra Bladet uden for citat – a recent documentary about Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet – illustrates just how much influence Maymann (direct or indirect, willingly or not) has on the Danish media business.

Like all other print newspapers, Ekstra Bladet does not find itself in a good situation these years, and it’s struggeling to find out what to do. However, the documentary shows, on the basis of more or less only a one-hour meeting with Maymann (where he lays out the reasons for the success of the Huffington Post), editor-in-chief Poul Madsen and a couple of colleagues in the newspaper’s top management quickly decided that much of what Huffington Post does should also be the way forward for the newspaper. Video, mobile, and social media become central components in the new way of doing things. So strong is the belief in Maymann’s approach – or the willingness to believe – that one inspirational meeting was enough.

This anecdote is not unique to Ekstra Bladet. More or less every Danish media organization wants a piece of the Huffington Post and Maymann, of learning what they do.

What Ekstra Bladet and other Danish legacy media must remember is, however, that they are not in a position to just copy-paste the Huffington Post’s way of doing things. They operate in another market with a quite small language community, the employment and union structure and tradition in the Danish labor market is radically different, and – most importantly – they cannot just import the necessary mindset and culture from another organization.

There is no quick fix to the challenges currently facing the news industry, no matter how convincing the bringer of the good news is.

Disclaimer: I have not yet watched Ekstra Bladet uden for citat myself but have had this sequence retold by several people.