January 11, 2022

Academic and nonprofit critics of mainstream media have contended for several years that paywalls and rising subscription prices translate to catering to well-off audiences to the exclusion of the less affluent.

Turns out that editors and publishers on the inside don’t have much of a beef with that.

The latest in a bunch of thought-provoking reports from the Reuters Institute for Journalism at Oxford asked 246 news leaders in 52 countries, “To what extent do you agree with the following statement: Journalism these days is increasingly super-serving richer and more educated audiences and leaving others behind?” 47% agreed, compared to 28% disagreeing and 25% with no opinion.

That’s one of many findings in the Institute’s annual Trends and Predictions report released Monday. Other headlines were that revenue started on its way back up in 2021 and that publishers are reducing reliance on Facebook and Twitter, turning to more use of TikTok and Instagram.

The affordability issue surfaced just last week with the announcement that entrepreneurs Ben Smith and Justin Smith plan to launch a new digital journalism venture targeted to a global market of 200 million English-speaking, college-educated, professionals. Elitist to be sure, though Smith and Smith countered that there had not been a significant new player in that space for at least 40 years.

Locally, metro papers are typically now charging $400 to $800 a year for print plus digital subscriptions. Paywalls are tightening and digital-only subscriptions, once introductory rates burn off, are not cheap either. So limited access for those on a tight budget seems inevitable.

The situation prompted a book last year by scholar (and occasional Poynter contributor) Nikki Usher titled, “News for the Rich, White and Blue: How Place and Power Distort American Journalism.”

This piece originally appeared in The Poynter Report, our daily newsletter for everyone who cares about the media. Subscribe to The Poynter Report here.

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Rick Edmonds is media business analyst for the Poynter Institute where he has done research and writing for the last fifteen years. His commentary on…
Rick Edmonds

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