The Decoded | No. 8 | By Lisanne
In an interview with the Guardian in 2018, writer Yuval Noah Harari – Yes, the Israeli historian famously known for writing the two bestsellers Sapiens and Homo Deus — shared something interesting: “ […] We′re willing to pay for high-quality food and clothes and cars, so why not high-quality information?” 1
It’s 2023, and we find ourselves prone to free news and information everywhere. There’s an incredible amount of noise around us, and enormous demands on everybody’s attention. It’s also easier than ever to slide, click, and tap, and the moments when people suddenly start talking to their phones to say, “Hey Siri, find me a recipe”, aren’t as odd today as they were a few years ago.
While advertisers bid for reader’s attention, Harari mentions in that same interview with the Guardian: “there is no penalty for creating a sensational story that is untrue”2.
I deeply believe the current economic model that determines which stories are told, clicked on, and compensated is in need of transformation. In our journalistic environment where the mantra “if it bleeds, it leads” continues to resonate—and is increasingly reinforced by the clickbait web—there is a professional bias in favor of reporting on the latest and predominantly negative news stories, instead of the most valuable ones.
It’s no surprise though, that media companies have started experimenting with new formats of storytelling and earning models. We have already seen the introduction of the subscription model, but even the successful subscription products only convert a small single-digit percentage of their audience to subscriptions. The learning here is that broad, one-size-fits-all subscriptions no longer cater to the level of personalization the internet has made audiences accustomed to.
This leaves writers, publishers, and particularly news— and media outlets with a challenge: to transform not just the experience around reading, but also the way those stories are compensated. The industry needs to find creative, meaningful means of engaging subscribers that go beyond swamping their audience with a broad mix of miscellaneous content. A similar trend to the subscription model that’s currently underway is the Metaverse and Web3, which gives the ownership of the content back to the creator— eliminating the middleman, and giving the reader the space to only pay for the content he would like to see.
And there is a ton of stories I would like to see more often. The story of Kalief Browder, for example, is an important story about the malfunctioning of the legal system of the United States. Another example that remains relatively unknown to the bigger audience is an issue like diarrhea, which is the main cause of child starvation in Africa for over 50 years now, most of it due to the lack of a proper toilet. I also like to see more stories on climate innovations and initiatives to solve climate change. It’s a dynamic work field that shows us a lot about what we could be capable of.
In other words, there is a wealth of timeless literature and offline stories that foster meaning and thoughtfulness, and remain relevant over time, but don’t show up on top of the search engines. Many stories are evident and relevant – yet they can only become widely visible if we proactively support and bring those stories to a wider audience.
The subscription model will definitely evolve in the coming future, putting personalization and readers’ support at the center. We’re going to need readers’ support to find stories with a bit of substance, to promote stories that we genuinely want to see, and to make sure that they make us feel more connected to ourselves and each other. Stories can teach us where we come from, how we end up here and guide us on the way forward. At times, they even make us laugh a little bit.
What kind of stories would you like to see more often? Join the conversation below.
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