April 5, 2016

This morning, Medium made a very enticing offer to news organizations — especially small, scrappy ones — when it announced a new suite of digital tools intended to create a more hospitable destination for journalists.

Medium, which has traditionally been home to individual writers and a limited number of publications such as Matter and The Nib, will now offer publishers tools to help them gin up digital revenue: Membership and “Promoted Stories,” which is Medium-speak for native advertising. Several publishers, including The Awl, Pacific Standard, The Bold Italic and Monday Note have already signed on, with several more to follow.

There are several upsides to joining up and a couple of downsides. In brief, it appears to be an out-of-the-box solution that solves the technical headaches that news types often suffer from:

  1. Free hosting: “On Medium, publishers have full control over their content and spend exactly zero time, money, or effort on tech and hosting, instead focusing their resources on producing great content and reaching new audiences.”
  2. Integration with Facebook Instant Articles and Google AMP: “We want Medium to be your write-once, publish-anywhere destination. That’s why we’ll soon launch compatibility support for Facebook Instant Articles and Google Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)”
  3. Built-in advertising network: “Select publishers and bloggers who consistently produce meaningful, original content and maintain a loyal following of engaged readers will have the ability to host stories from brand partners on posts in their publication.”
  4. Membership: “We are launching with a limited number of publications on Medium who will offer members-only content and other perks to readers, in exchange for a monthly membership fee paid directly to the publication.”

These tools, combined with Medium’s clean publishing system, could be salvation for harried news outlets and bloggers willing to let San Francisco-based company take the reins on technical matters, as media consultant and journalism professor Jeff Jarvis noted on Twitter:

Publishers will keep a portion of the revenue generated by native advertising and memberships without the fuss of selling the ads or building the membership program from scratch. Medium, in turn, gets to keep a cut of the membership fees — 20 percent — and draw more eyeballs to the ads in its network.

But the launch also surfaces a recurring problematic question about who has control over news distribution and the relationship with readers that accompanies it. It’s the latest wrinkle in one of the most important trends in the news business today.

As tech giants like Facebook and Apple unveil products to connect their users directly with journalism, they are establishing themselves as the primary intermediary between news organizations and their audiences.

While the reaction to Medium’s news on Twitter was overwhelmingly positive, several observers noted that the launch could be somewhat disruptive for news organizations:

To be sure, Medium is not a disrupter on the level of Facebook or Apple. And there’s no indicator that news outlets will abandon their websites and flock to Medium en masse.

But today’s deal echoes an earlier one made by Facebook during the rollout of its Instant Articles program: Publish on our platform, we’ll take care of the heavy lifting on the technology and advertising side. It’s a seductive offer, but, as others have noted, one that requires news outlets to give up some sovereignty over their journalism.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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