Arianna Huffington Says the Future of News Is Free

At the Monaco Media Forum lately, two competing business models for journalism were put forth by two industry leaders: Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post and Mathias Dopfner, CEO of the German media conglomerate Axel Springer. In lieu of watching their hour-long debate, read on for a summary of their arguments.

The Huffington Post is arguably the most forward thinking news business in terms of providing free content. Mrs. Huffington’s business model looks like this: she has about 70 full time staff, including marketing and advertising staff; paid content editors and about 3,000 bloggers and citizen journalists who contribute to the Huff Post for free. All income comes from advertising dollars. Though she has never released her business ledger, Mr. Dopfner estimates the Huff Post makes between six and ten million dollars a year.

Axel Springer is a more traditional media company with printing presses and journalists on the ground. It too receives content and photos from citizen journalists, but differs from the Huff Post in that everyone who contributes to the end product is paid.

Dopfner of Axel Springer argues that his model is preferable, that fair rules and respect for copyrighted content must exist for the journalism business to remain sustainable. According to Dopfner, sustainability means not only financial profit, but the ability to produce quality news that reaches a diverse audience. Dopfner’s payroll, however, includes expensive line items like foreign correspondents. So who will pay? Subscribers, he says. Even when the content is online.

Huffington and Dopfner agreed that people are willing to pay for these six categories of information, seemingly whether online or in print: people with money and power, sports, games, the regional environment, and sex and crime.

Revenues generated from selling these topics could be used to fund more important, yet less popular stories on politics, public health, the environment, and so on.

For her part, Mrs. Huffington is developing the Huffington Post Investigative Fund, a non-profit collection of journalists who do investigative reporting in the Washington D.C. area.

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