Paywall priorities a threat to journalism jobs, says LMA's Lane

Philanthropy and community contribution will play a bigger role in funding news, as publishers that serve underrepresented communities "shine and grow", Local Media Association chief executive Nancy Lane says.

Despite threats and challenges, she says there are many opportunities for 2021 that need to be seized.

In a New Year message, she recalls seeing a man wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with 'The media IS the virus' during a visit to a supermarket. While she resisted the temptation to get into a debate with the maskless man, she admits she has family members, acquaintances, neighbours and others who feel the same way. "I have engaged in countless debates, including on Facebook - something I have avoided until now ­- and even had a publisher recently tell me that the New York Times was fake news."

Lane lists this disdain for the media among her top threats for 2021 and beyond. "We have a lot of work to do as an industry to combat this," she says.

Other issues that "keep me up at night" include the loss of more journalism jobs - especially at newspapers that prioritise digital subscriptions - reliance on retransmission fees by broadcasters, and inability to innovate and transform.

And our ability "to be essential to a healthy democracy when hard paywalls shut out 99 per cent of the community, and especially those who are less affluent and/or underrepresented.

And the good news: Her top five among "many opportunities" for 2021 are:

-Journalism funded by philanthropy will explode this year. All newsrooms (print and digital) should strive for at least 30 per cent funding. This is likely more than digital subscriptions or memberships are bringing in. Newspapers and digital sites should be hiring development directors and eventually major gift officers. Starting in January, we'll be publishing case studies on a regular basis from our Lab for Journalism Funding partners who are making great progress.

-Membership and community contribution models will become more popular than digital subscriptions for all but the largest local media organisations. Most small and mid-size publishers can't compete when it comes to the technology, marketing and human capital investments that are needed to win in the digital subscription space. In 2021, new models will emerge that will be more successful and easier to implement.

-Publishers that serve underrepresented communities will have more resources and funding than ever before. This will be their year to shine and grow.

-Industry collaboration will take off in new and unexpected ways resulting in better solutions-focused journalism, and increased revenue and audience growth for the participants.

-Data journalists will lead the way in converting subscribers, donors, viewers and members. It's a must-have position in every newsroom.

Lane says 2021 will be "another challenging year" but that the most innovative companies will lead the way. "They will take risks, experiment and pivot when needed. They'll be committed to strong local leadership and favour personalisation over scale."

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