The PR BlogMedia & PsychologyJournalism & News BusinessThe Future of Online News: How To Convert News Junkies

The Future of Online News: How To Convert News Junkies

In a digital-first world, online journalism must evolve.

Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Instagram)

The future of online news is shrouded in clouds.

As a seasoned PR professional, I depend on keeping up with the news. I would pay for access to a news site… if the news site could give me what I want.

This article will demonstrate just how much a news publisher has to offer — without resorting to hiding news stories behind paywalls.

Let’s get into it:

Journalists Need Smarter Paywalls

In my digital-first universe, such as it is, a premium business model for journalism doesn’t include paywalled news.

Instead, we should entice news lovers with a fuller experience of what drew them. For a news publisher, the news is the equivalent of content marketing for a regular business. It’s not something you ask users to pay for; it’s what makes users favour you with their attention.

However, as a news junkie, I’d love to pay for premium access!

But news publishers must rethink how they convert news junkies into premium subscribers.

Read also: Dear Journalist,

Examples of Premium-Only Features

A premium community for news lovers. The future of online news must attract “news junkies” (news consumers who crave a deep and total news experience. The value proposition should include some of the following features for premium-only users:

  • Ad-free experience (on all platforms)
  • Individual and partially customisable interest-based front page
  • Links to related archived material instead of ads
  • Visible outbound links within articles
  • Access to journalist commentary adjacent to articles
  • Free premium month for referring one new premium user
  • A database search of the entire online archive
  • Personal news archive for saved articles
  • Available to post comments to comment moderation queue
  • Community trophies for user engagement (become a super-user)
  • Super-user comments are also visible to freemium users
  • Access to unedited journalistic research material for citizen journalism
  • Individual interest-based email send-outs
  • Priority options to send in material for consideration
  • Access to wiki section for article corrections
  • AMAs with journalists and editors adjacent to exclusive reveals
  • Access to share archived articles on social media (using referral links)
  • Essential analytics tools (media usage data) for citizen journalism
  • Free to publish classified ads
  • Access to extra lifestyle content (how-to articles, documentaries, blog posts etc.)

Please note that none of the above add-ons includes hiding news stories behind paywalls.

A premium community for business accounts. Many brands love news. The value of a brand premium subscription could be substantial. Here are a few examples of a better news experience for business accounts:

  • All premium-only features for brand employees
  • Business-specific front page for brand employees
  • Programmatic dashboard for placing targeted ads
  • Do-follow outbound brand links for better SEO
  • Advanced media monitoring services
  • Priority post box to send in content for editorial consideration (pay-to-play)
  • Pay to keep articles “never-archived” and always visible
  • Advanced analytics tools (media usage data) for brand employees
  • Token-based survey tools for brand employees
  • Indexable press release portal with do-follow links for better SEO
  • Publish lifestyle content (how-to articles, documentaries, blog posts etc.)

Please note that none of the above add-ons includes hiding news stories behind paywalls.

Prerequisites for the Premium Model

News must be freemium. All editorial content (i.e. the news) must be free and not paywalled. The premium offering is focused on features extending and deepening the news experience.

Online News - Paywalls - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog
A new paradigm for online news.

Old ad models must be replaced. The primary purpose of ads is to drive freemium users to premium conversion, and the secondary goal is to allow premium business accounts to place programmatic ads.

News publishers must learn online conversion. The future of online news must know to convert freemium users (news readers) to premium users (feature users) at a competitive level which means converting 1% of all unique visitors at a minimum. This is a far cry from what the industry is capable of today. 1This also becomes a challenge to keeping premium users on a monthly subscription model (churn).

The Engagement Pyramid

The 1% rule of online engagement was mainly an urban legend on the internet. Still, a peer-reviewed paper from 2014 entitled The 1% Rule in Four Digital Health Social Networks: An Observational Study confirmed the 1% rule of thumb.

Engaged publics typically distribute themselves according to a distribution that has been scientifically proven well before the advent of the internet and social media, and supporting sociologists have made observations for centuries.

The engagement pyramid divides publics into three distinct groups:

  • Creators
  • Contributors
  • Lurkers

When studying internet forums specifically, it’s not uncommon to find that 90% of users have never posted (lurkers), 9% are adding only to existing topics and threads (contributors), and 1% are actively starting new subjects and threads (creators).

The engagement pyramid is sometimes called the 1% rule or the 1-9-90 rule.

Read also: The Engagement Pyramid

Change: The Future of Online News

Why are journalists so slow to adapt?

Most news publishers are homeschooled in traditional publishing. They haven’t been exposed to high-level online business models in highly competitive areas like e-commerce, fashion, or enterprise software.

Online business models seem provocative for most traditional news corporations. They’ve been enjoying the traditional role of having passive news consumers.

News corporations are not accustomed to giving their readers any influence over their news experience, nor are they willing to grant super-users (“news junkies”) any extra favours. This has got to change.

1 This also becomes a challenge to keeping premium users on a monthly subscription model (churn).
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.


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