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Ismael Nafría: «Paying for Information is Today an Inevitable Choice for the Survival of the Media»

Ismael Nafría, author of the book «The Reinvention of The New York Times«, has been advising media outlets around the world for years. He knows well the journalistic business and understands the challenges that the media faces today in these moments of change and uncertainty. We review with him some of the issues have been stirring the most controversy lately such as the phenomenon of fake news, although he himself prefers to call it misinformation.

It is precisely this issue that we tackled the first few moments of our talk. In Nafría’s view, there are three tasks that must be undertaken to combat the spread of false news. The first task, he says, places us within social media, where thousands of pieces of fake news are disseminated every day. In his opinion, these platforms must intensify their control over all sources that dedicate themselves to spreading misinformation. «This task is very complex and especially affects Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter … or Google searches. They have to establish the maximum number of possible control measures so that this kind of thing doesn’t happen, » he adds.

The second task, in his opinion, is to ensure the public’s media literacy all the way from school. «Trying to foster a more critical mentality among the population when it comes to interpreting certain content and making them understand whether or not they are reading reliable material, so that they be extra careful when it comes to redispersing such information through their social platforms» is a fundamental objective that, according to Nafría, we must take on as a society.

Finally, the media has two jobs. «The media ought not to contribute to misinformation. They have a great responsibility when it comes to not spreading false news, because they must assume their professional role of informing, «he says. «Those media outlets that spread false news, unverified, do a disservice to the entire sector.» In this sense, it is clear: it is necessary to be stricter when applying the essential principles of journalism, which are, confirming the topics, verifying that the sources are reliable …

But, in addition to all of this, it is important that the media help us to understand how the world of misinformation works and that they would identify specific cases. «I’m not saying that this means for them to carry out a continuous analysis of everything that is spread; It wouldn’t be possible given the sheer amount of false news circulating, but they ought to explain the most serious cases, helping identify them and justify why they are such, » he stresses. This, along with a willingness to be more transparent: how information is prepared, how it is verified … These types of actions would help tremendously to tackle the problem of misinformation.

Although this has become one of the hot topics that today occupies the media, especially when they get embroiled in some scandal of the like, the truth is that the business model that will sustain newspapers is still the main concern among those who govern the destiny of the press.


Payment, a Business Model

Asked how the media can convince the audience to pay for information, Ismael Nafría admits that it is a complicated objective, but at the same time he assures that it is an inevitable option «if we want to guarantee the media’s survival».

In order to carry out that task, he is convinced that the media must come up information that is truly of quality and pertinent to its audience, be it generalist or a more niche sort. In his opinion, one of the premises that he usually shares with those responsible for the media is that it is better to bet on less information yet of higher quality than for an immense volume that doesn’t bring the publica any value. «I think that there is a saturation and that generic information provides very little value,» he adds, adding that «people are willing to pay for information, but they don’t expect you to flood and saturate them, rather they want you to offer them things that have value. and with which they enjoy», because this also serves as a purpose of information. «A well told story tells wonderous tales,» he says.

However, they are not the only efforts that the media have to take to build payment walls around their contents. There is another area where there is a long way to go and it is the relationship with the audience. As Nafría explains, it is vital that the audience be truly involved. But not only a posteriori, as is usually done, but before the published information. It is about getting them to participate, that they contribute their contents, their experiences, their knowledge about certain topics. And this is not easy to happen. There are examples, however, such as the Reader Center section of The New York Times, where queries and requests from users are answered, as well as their participation in many current issues. The data on its success are compelling. «In its first year since its birth, it has managed 600 different requests to readers on very different topics,» he says.

Ismael Nafría considers that the decision to charge for the information must be accompanied by other measures and one of the most important has to do with the relationship established with the audience. «If you want your audience to pay, you must work hard and keep it in mind,» he says. From there, you should experiment with all the formats that allow building a direct and close relationship with your community around the medium. One of the formats that is working is the newsletter because it is a tool that generates «very effective connection and engagement with the audience». Format with more projection and that is starting to become more frequently used is the podcast, although in Spain it isn’t yet really an option for many editors.

That the payment for the information is irremediable at the moment, does not mean – to clarify – that it is the solution to income stream problems. But it has to be seen as an additional way which is becoming increasingly important and that will end up being the main income stream as is already happening in certain media such as with The New York Times.

The Situation with Spain

So what’s happening in Spain? Did editors finally decide to charge for information?

Nafría assures that everything points to the fact that the editors will decide throughout this year regarding payment. There are already some media, he adds, that are charging for information such as the regional and local newspapers of the Vocento group or the Catalan daily Ara.

However, will media outlets that opt for payment not lose audiences to the benefit of  «free» ones? This premise, which was used years ago, has no validity as such, according to Nafría. For him, although readers may be lost, the most important aspect is that the medium is able to achieve a loyal following. We are witnessing the failure of a model, based on audience hunting, which not only makes no sense, but also is dysfunctional. Therefore, it is more sensible and beneficial to increase the loyal audience «with which the media can count on for those that need them, rather than increasing the number of users who whiz through the site once a month without realizing it.»

In any case, it is clear that the loss of audience is always related to the type of strategy that the media puts into practice. But, even if readers lost, it is far wiser to focus on winning loyal users who interact and get involved with the medium of choice.

Bárbara Yuste
Director of Digital Communication at Proa Comunicación



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