I recently saw Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, speak at London Tech Week. He gave an overview of how Wikipedia has succeeded in recent years, relying on a network of diligent volunteers and - more importantly - donations from the public. He even went as far as to claim that 90% of the organisation's financial income comes from small donations, of as little as £5.
This FT piece credits the Guardian's recent journey towards breaking even on this very business model. Wales claimed to have even endorsed the donation banner technique to Guardian Media Group when they were initially deciding how to tackle their losses.
Wales' next project is WikiTribune. A news platform that brings journalists and volunteers together to produce fact-based articles that have a real impact in both local and global events. This network is mostly a reaction to the fake news machine, producing stories can be easily verified and improved. It also provide an opportunity for quality investigative journalism to continue - in an industry where more and more reporters are expected to churn out a minimum quota of clickbait articles a day (not generalising all reporters / titles here).
Perhaps the future of media does not lie in advertising-heavy digital platforms that creepily knows everything about you, from what you had for breakfast to how much you spend on your holidays. However, perhaps the alternative doesn't need to be heavily paywalled content. What if there was a third way? Or even a fourth?
Donations seem to working for The Guardian, and WikiTribune is pushing the boat out to explore a new type of publication. Will this go one step further to until every user embraces syndication networks of press, paying what they can and what they think they should? I think I prefer this alternative - or even paywall content - to content driven by advertising that has the potential to be under the thumb of corporate influence.
N.B. Having writing this I realise the article I've cited is an FT one and sits behind its very own paywall...!
Most of GMG’s peers have introduced paywalls to generate money from their journalism, but Mr Pemsel said there were no plans to do so with The Guardian and The Observer, and expressed confidence in the reader donation model. “There are consequences to putting a paywall up,” he said, pointing to the impact of Guardian and Observer scoops, such as their coverage of the Cambridge Analytica and Windrush scandals. “If you think about the remit of what the Guardian is here to do, taxing for consumption is inconsistent with who we are. If we were left with no alternative but to look at [a paywall], then Kath and I would look at it.”