Show a little vulnerability

“What if in 2018, instead of trying to sell our audiences something they may not want, or threatening to shut off access to news they actually need, we simply admit we need their trust, understanding, and investment to provide great journalism?”

I don’t need to tell anyone about the steady decline of journalism’s business model. News outlets have been on the skids for a decade. Each quarter sees the closing of local, regional, and even previously successful national digital outlets.

Advertising and subscriptions aren’t bringing in anywhere near the revenue they once did, but still it’s hard to let go of the idea that news organizations have to sell their audiences something. The scramble to reinvent the business model with metered paywalls, programmatic ad servers, and sponsored content is focused on squeezing every possible drop of profit from consumers while cheapening the value of our relationship with them.

What if in 2018, instead of trying to sell our audiences something they may not want, or threatening to shut off access to news they actually need, we simply admit we need their trust, understanding, and investment to provide great journalism? What if instead of being obsessed with transactions, we focus on relationship building? What if we peel back the layers of our hardened journalists’ shells and reveal a little vulnerability? Because journalism is incredibly vulnerable right now, and there’s no shame in that.

Dozens of news organizations, most of them nonprofit, already are taking this tack successfully. Honolulu Civil Beat is a case in point. The Pierre Omidyar-founded regional news organization started as a for-profit shop with a metered paywall. After six years of steadily reducing the price and mediocre growth, they decided to drop the paywall and build a broader community of engaged readers. They became a nonprofit in June 2016 and rolled out a grassroots membership program. Instead of asking readers to pay a set subscription fee, Civil Beat’s editors, reporters and development team introduced themselves in a series of emails and asked their audience to contribute what they thought the content was worth. A year later, revenue from individuals had increased by 78 percent, with the average “transaction” increasing from $60 to $140.

By closing the paywall and being transparent about their revenue needs — even with a billionaire benefactor — Civil Beat convinced readers to help the news outlet diversify its funding and strengthen its ability to provide strong, independent reporting.

This isn’t limited to nonprofit news organizations that can offer a tax deduction in exchange for a donation (which data shows isn’t why most people support a cause). PolitiFact, the popular fact-checking arm of the for-profit Tampa Bay Times launched a membership program a year ago and saw a similar response from their audience. Instead of shying away from being part of a major for-profit metropolitan newspaper, they used that as the point of their plea, asking their passionate audience to help them cover their own costs and remain financially independent. In the past year, they’ve recruited 1,560 members and secured $190,000 in contributions with another $104,000 scheduled to come in over the next year.

At the News Revenue Hub, we’re fortunate to work with 16 brave news organizations who are pulling back the veil on their business operations and letting readers know that their support is critical if they want newsrooms to survive and thrive. Based on the initial audience data we collect with each new client, most news consumers don’t fully understand how news operations are funded. It’s our duty to explain the changing business model to our audiences so they can understand what role they must play in sustaining quality journalism.

With understanding comes trust, and from trust comes a much more valuable bond than any paywall or display ad can generate. That’s my hope for 2018.

Mary Walter-Brown is founder and CEO of the News Revenue Hub.

Dan Newman   A return to trust

Hannah Cassius   The year of the echo-chamber escapists

Will Sommer   The year local media gets conservative

Jennifer Brandel and Mónica Guzmán   The editorial meeting of the future

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Seeking trust in fragmented spaces

Joyce Barnathan   It will be harder to bury the news

Feli Sánchez   The year for guerrilla user research

Kawandeep Virdee   Zines had it right all along

Jim Brady   With the people, not just of the people

Mariana Moura Santos   Think local, act global

Lam Thuy Vo   Breaking free from the tyranny of the loudest

Sue Schardt   Jump the niche

Alexios Mantzarlis   Moving fake news research out of the lab

Monika Bauerlein   The firehose of falsehood

Pablo Boczkowski   The rise of skeptical reading

Miguel Castro   The arrival of the impact producer

Corey Johnson   The pro-fact resistance

Christopher Meighan   Passive partnership is in the rearview

Tanzina Vega   It’s time for media companies to #PassTheMic

Umbreen Bhatti   The trust problem isn’t new

Sydette Harry   Listen to your corner and watch for the hook

Jessica Parker Gilbert   Design connects storytelling and strategy

Ariana Tobin   Too tired to tap

Trushar Barot   The Jio-fication of India

Jarrod Dicker   Honesty in advertising

Burt Herman   Things get real

Pia Frey   Address users as individuals

Richard J. Tofel   The platforms’ power demands more reporters’ attention

Doris Truong   Computer vision vs. the Internet vigilantes

Emily Goligoski   Looking beyond news for inspiration

Dannagal G. Young   Stop covering politics as a game

Cristina Wilson   The year of the Instagram Story

Lucas Graves   From algorithms to institutions

Tanya Cordrey   Finally, the seeds of radical reinvention

Edward Roussel   Eyes, ears, and brains

Heather Bryant   Building the ecosystems for collaboration

Frédéric Filloux   External forces

Raney Aronson-Rath   Transparency is the antidote to fake news

Justin Kosslyn   The year journalists become digital security experts

Neha Gandhi   Filler killers

Federica Cherubini   The rise of bridge roles in news organizations

Sarah Marshall   Loyalty as the key performance indicator

Sally Lehrman   Trust comes first

Pete Brown   Push alerts, personalized

Tracie Powell   The muting of underserved voices

Daniel Trielli   The rich get richer, the poor scramble

Kristen Muller   The year of the voter

Francesco Marconi   The year of machine-to-machine journalism

Luke O'Neil   The end is already here

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Fortifying social media from automated inauthenticity

Mario García   Storytelling finally adapts to mobile

Millie Tran and Stine Bauer Dahlberg   (Hint: It’s about your brand)

Lanre Akinola   Making noise is not a strategy

Alfred Hermida   Going beyond mobile-first

Jassim Ahmad   Thriving on change

Tamar Charney   We get serious about algorithms

P. Kim Bui   The reckoning is only beginning

Jacqui Cheng   Retailers move into content

Mary Walter-Brown   Show a little vulnerability

Hossein Derakhshan   Television has won

Corey Ford   The empire strikes back

Alan Soon   The rise of start of psychographic, micro-targeted media

C.W. Anderson   The social media apocalypse

Mariano Blejman   News games rule

Tim Carmody   Watch out for Spotify

Rubina Madan Fillion   Unlocking the potential of AI

Sam Sanders   Shine the light on ourselves

Sam Ford   The year of investing in processes

Jesse Holcomb   Information disorder, coming to a congressional district near you

Michael Kuntz   The only pivot that might work

Eric Nuzum   Beyond the narrative arc

Elizabeth Jensen   Show your work

Mandy Velez   texting is lit rn, fam

Helen Havlak   Keywords, not publishers, power the world’s biggest feeds

Borja Echevarría   TV goes digital, digital goes TV

Amy King   Let’s amplify visual voice

Debra Adams Simmons   And a woman shall lead them

Kyle Ellis   Let’s build our way out of this

Jamie Mottram   From pageviews to t-shirts

Yvonne Leow   The rise of video messaging

Jake Levine   The return to now

Nushin Rashidian   Publishers seek ad dollar alternatives

Molly de Aguiar   Good journalism won’t be enough

Mary Meehan   Real lives are at stake in rural areas

Alastair Coote   The year of self-improvement

Nathalie Malinarich   Peak push

L. Gordon Crovitz   Serving readers over advertisers

Evie Nagy   Pivot to mobile video frustration

Nicholas Quah   Stop talking trash about young people

Alice Antheaume   Are you fluent in AI?

Usha Sahay   Wallets get opened

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   Women of color will reclaim and monetize our time

Mira Lowe   The year of the local watchdog

Andrew Ramsammy   The year ownership mattered

Julia Beizer   A longer view on the pivot

Rachel Davis Mersey   AI, with real smarts

José Zamora   Revenue-first journalism

Cindy Royal   Your journalism curriculum is obsolete

Matt DeRienzo   A recession, then a collapse

Adam Thomas   Sharing is caring: The year of the mentor

Andrew Losowsky   The year of resilience

Michelle Ferrier   The year of the great reckoning

Joanne Lipman   Journalists inventing revenue streams

Brian Lam   Sketchy ethics around product reviews

Sara M. Watson   Feeds will open up to new user-determined filters

Aron Pilhofer   We can’t leave the business to the business side any more

Craig Newmark   Working together toward sustainable solutions

Felix Salmon   Covering bitcoin while owning bitcoin

Carlos Martínez de la Serna   The new journalism commons

Claire Wardle   Disinformation gets worse

Dan Shanoff   You down with OTT? (Yeah, DTC)

Nikki Usher   The year of The Washington Post

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Publishing less to give readers more

Steve Grove   The midterms are an opportunity

Matt Boggie   The intellectual equivalent of the Dead Sea

Andrew Haeg   The year journalists become relationship builders

Rick Berke   Value is the watchword

Michelle Garcia   Navigating journalistic transparency

Jennifer Choi   Standing up for us and for each other

Bill Keller   A growing turn to philanthropy

Nancy Watzman   Know thy TV

Charo Henríquez   Training is an investment, not an expense

Susie Banikarim   R.I.P. Pivot to Video (2017–2017)

Caitlin Thompson   Podcasting models mature and diversify

Ståle Grut   Reclaiming audience interaction from social networks

David Skok   Finding an information-life balance

Cory Haik   Suffering from realness, pivoting to impact

Ruth Palmer   Risks will grow for news subjects — especially minorities

Mike Caulfield   Refactoring media literacy for the networked age

Juliette De Maeyer   A responsible press criticism

Laura E. Davis   Writing answers before you know the question

Ray Soto   VR reaches the next level

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   Skepticism and narcissism

Jim Moroney   Newspapers have to be good enough for readers to pay for

Amy Webb   Listen to weak signals

Imaeyen Ibanga   Longform video leads the way

Monique Judge   Letting black women tell their own stories

Rodney Benson   Better, less read, and less trusted

Emma Carew Grovum   Newsroom culture becomes a priority

Carrie Brown-Smith   Transparency finally takes off

Vanessa K. DeLuca   Women’s voices take center stage

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   The Snapchat scenario and the risk of more closed platforms

Renée Kaplan   The year of quiet adjustments (shhh)

Niketa Patel   Live journalism comes of age

Manoush Zomorodi   Self-help as a publishing strategy

Matt Carlson   Attacks on the press will get worse

Julia B. Chan   Looking for loyalty in all the right places

Kathleen McElroy   Building a news video experience native to mobile

Taylor Lorenz   Social and media will split

Kim Fox   Audience teams diversify their approach

S. Mitra Kalita   The arc of news and audience

Raju Narisetti   Mirror, mirror on the wall

Kelsey Proud   No, no, no

Dheerja Kaur   Fun with subscription products

Marcela Donini and Thiago Herdy   Collaboration is the way forward for Brazilian journalism

Errin Haines Whack   At the ballot, it’s time to count black women

Jared Newman   Venture funding and digital news don’t mix

Kinsey Wilson   Facebook and Google: Help out or pay up

Vivian Schiller   Pivot to tomorrow

Almar Latour   Conquering calm

Jennifer Coogan   The future is female

Damon Krukowski   Reviving the alt-weekly soul

Zizi Papacharissi   Women come back

Rodney Gibbs   Tech workers turn to journalism

Basile Simon   We need better career paths for news nerds

Eric Ulken   The year local publishers get smart(er) about change

Amie Ferris-Rotman   More female reporters abroad (please)

Matt Thompson   Here come the attention managers

Rachel Schallom   Better design helps differentiate opinion and news

Paul Ford   Go global

Joanne McNeil   Gatekeeping the gatekeepers

An Xiao Mina   Memes and visuals come to the fore

Caitria O'Neill   The new court of public opinion

Marie Gilot   No assholes allowed

Mi-Ai Parrish   Blockchain and trust

John Keefe   Scooped by AI