With the midterm elections approaching, a tsunami of news and misinformation is about to inundate social media feeds. This is a problem because, according to research by Ypulse, a majority of young consumers (13–39) get their news from social media. Unfortunately, despite serving as the primary news source for consumers, social media platforms are not considered publishers and are not held responsible for the content that their users post. They have neither interest in nor obligation to check the veracity of the content shared by users.
Additionally, social platforms’ uniform design and formatting makes it difficult for users to distinguish posts from bad actors using faux news outlets to spread misinformation, disinformation or propaganda from well-researched, fact-checked pieces from legitimate outlets. Spurious information generators, free from the costs inherent in researching and fact-checking their work, do not need to monetize their content.
Their messages, let loose onto social platforms and unconstrained by a business model that demands subscriptions and paywalls, travel fast and far. It’s a veritable flywheel to the bottom.
The digital revolution that gave life to these social platforms and hijacked audience attention also disrupted the news media’s business model, hitting local news publishers particularly hard. Subscriptions aren’t filling in the gap left by declining advertising revenue. Consumers can only carry so many subscriptions, and local outlets are competing with national players for subscriber dollars. As subscriber churn and consumer acquisition costs climb, budgets are slashed and coverage is reduced.
Technology has also given rise to a desire for à la carte access. Consumers don’t purchase albums; they stream songs. They don’t subscribe to cable; they cut the cord. They don’t want to sign up, log on or answer questions. They want access to what they want, when they want it.
The outcome of this confluence of consumer behavior, business needs and social platform design is that local news and smaller voices are stifled, and we no longer even have mutually agreed-upon facts. Misinformation and disinformation breed cynicism, civil disengagement and division.
But there is a solution.
Americans still trust local news organizations more than they do national ones, and the midterm elections, along with changing consumer behaviors and desires, provide the perfect opportunity for local news organizations to embrace alternative payment models, such as pay-per-article access to content. Local outlets have an opportunity to be first movers, empowering consumer agency and offering expanded access to quality information at a juncture—the midterm elections—when that information is eagerly sought. Even better: this access is monetized.
To understand how it could work, consider the Georgia Senate races at the end of 2020. People across the country of all political persuasions wanted to read about the contests. The most well-informed reporting and contextually accurate analysis was written by local reporters for local papers. Imagine if every article view had generated not only an advertising impression, but also a micropayment. National readers, who would never be interested in an annual subscription, would have happily paid a fraction of a dollar to read what they desired. Articles shared on social platforms, not slowed by paywalls, would have racked up both page views and revenue.
Now imagine this scenario repeated for every local news outlet covering a competitive race or hot-button legislative maneuver.
À La Carte Options Are Possible
An à la carte payment model is exactly what it sounds like: consumers pay for what they choose to consume instead of paying for an entire universe of content, most of which is of no interest to them.
If such a method is possible, why, you may wonder, is it not already in place? The answer lies in the history of how the internet and online content developed.
Initially, the internet didn’t accept payments, so its ethos was one in which everything was free. Technology gradually evolved to allow e-commerce, but micropayments were still neither cost-effective nor truly possible. But now that has changed. Thanks to blockchain technology, there is nothing other than habit preventing the embrace of micropayments.
À La Carte Access + Local Media = Informed Society + Stronger Democracy
À la carte micropayments for individual pieces of content could provide publishers with a revenue stream directly linked to their content. Trusted local news content could then gain traction on social platforms, revenue could be injected into local news operations, access to fact-based journalism could expand and good information could start to drive out bad.
The technology is available. The stakes have never been so high or the opportunity so great. Local media must make the move.
Host of the Up Next Podcast
Up Next is a podcast that examines the convergence between entertainment, technology, and business through interviews with the innovators, risk-takers and disrupters in Hollywood, Wall Street, Silicon Valley and beyond. It is frequently ranked in the top 200 business podcasts in the U.S. 70% of the audience is 18-34, has a college degree (or higher) and works in media, entertainment or production.