Can “Medium” Save Local Journalism?

Image by kalhh from Pixabay

By DJ Rippert

The medium is the message. Medium is an online publishing website founded by Evan Williams — who also co-founded Blogger and Twitter. The genre of Medium is sometimes called social journalism. As described in Wikipedia, social journalism “relies on community involvement, audience engagement, social newsgathering and verification, data and analytics, and relationship-building.” That’s all true. However, the biggest point is that authors get paid to write for Medium. Medium generates revenue by selling subscriptions at $5 per month. People who buy those subscriptions are called “members.” Members are eligible to enroll in Medium’s partner program. People in that program are eligible to earn money based on the level of engagement the author’s stories get from other members. While Medium keeps its payment algorithms secret most members believe that the amount paid is calculated based on the number of members who read the story and how long they spend reading it. In some ways Medium could be considered Uber for writers. It facilitates easy paid participation in the gig economy of writing.

The trouble with tribunes. Local newspapers are going the way of the Dodo. The issue has been extensively covered on Bacon’s Rebellion with articles like this, this and this. The only approach to this problem from established media outlets is an online subscription business model. Under that model you subscribe for a set amount per year, get a user name and password and can read the newspaper electronically to your heart’s content. However, to get a reasonable diversity of opinion across a state like Virginia would require multiple subscriptions. A starting set of subscriptions might include The Washington Post ($100 per year), The Daily Progress ($51.96 per year), The Richmond Times Dispatch ($51.96 per year), The Virginian-Pilot ($207.48 per year) and the Roanoke Times ($51.96 per year). That’s $463.36 per year. And what are you buying? A whole lot of information that is useless to you. For example, the “front page” of the website for the Roanoke Times features an article titled, “Roanoke County health center expands to new building.” That may be very interesting to some people but is irrelevant to me.  Under the annual subscription model I pay for that article as part of the total price whether I read it or not.

1+1=3? What if local journalism met Medium? A website dedicated to news and opinion across Virginia (or the mid-Atlantic) for a reasonable fee where writers got paid based on the amount of time subscribers spent reading their articles. There is editing. At Medium there are “publications” that aggregate members by topics of interest. You can subscribe to publications for free. When you log on, Medium will often present new stories from publications to which one subscribes. “Exploring History” and “Entrepreneur’s Handbook” are two of my self-selected subscriptions. Writing for popular publications is a good way to garner more views and more money. However, articles have to be submitted to publications for review by the editors before they are published. The concept of a “Virginia Medium” would have publications by geography or topic with editors that would decide if your writing was good enough to make it onto their part of the website. If your article was accepted people subscribing to the publication would probably see the article upon login and the author would have a good chance of being read.

Show me the money. Can writers really make money with Medium? Well, I’ve made 19¢ so far! The process works even if I haven’t gotten to the point of being able to buy a can of soda with my earnings. However, stories abound regarding writers who do quite well on Medium. One article describes a single mom who tried writing for Medium while also working what she described as a “dead end job.” After making $8,000 one month she quit her job in order to write articles for Medium full time. Another author wrote a single article in two hours that fetched $3,000. The author of the Medium review claims that he has a built a “six figure writing career” on Medium. Overall, 8% of “active writers” made at least $100 in July 2019 as reported by Medium. The most made by a single writer that month was $22,639.47, and the most lucrative single story fetched $6,720.35.

Putting it all together. I imagine a version of Medium dedicated to local journalism and commentary. An editor-in-chief decides what publications he or she will allow. The goal is to avoid overlaps and information chaos. Publication editors would review submitted articles and decide which to print “as is,” which to print with some modification and which to reject. Professional and amateur journalists would submit articles in the hope of getting paid. I also see older high school students, college students, stay-at home-Dads, retired people and bloggers contributing to “Virginia Medium.” Subscribers would get a combination of Bacon’s Rebellion and articles of statewide interest from all corners of the state. Local journalism would be reinvigorated through a combination of subscriptions, user generated content and the gig economy for journalism.

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33 responses to “Can “Medium” Save Local Journalism?

  1. All of those for $463.36 per year? The DP print is nearly that. Such a deal!

    If somebody will just get the local cops and FD to maintain and release logs, I’d be happy.

  2. Looks good for a start. Only thing I would add is get a writer from the areas all around. Would like to see different articles from different areas.

    • I agree. It’s sort of self regulating. If somebody from SW Virginia starts writing articles about SW Virginia and people read them money will be paid to the author. However, if somebody from SW Virginia writes articles about SW Virginia and nobody reads them there will be no money.

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Medium on the wrong side of the paradigm will be outflanked. Just ask John Matze or Fighting Joe Hooker.

  4. We need to talk offline.

  5. Well, that’s ominous.

  6. Substack is a thematically similar publishing platform with a subscription-based revenue model. An acquaintance of mine has had considerable success with his. https://niccolo.substack.com/p/weekend-reading-2021-01-09

  7. Baconator with extra cheese

    Until Medium starts publishing stuff Lord Bezos does not like. Then poof….. “No Servers For You”.

    • That was a particularly stupid move by AWS. They should have referred what they saw as illegal activity on Parler to the authorities and let the authorities ask that the site be shut down. Instead, they became a law enforcement organization onto themselves.

      Some people are convinced that AWS turns a blind eye to customers using their cloud to host child pornography. The statistic quotes is that 17 million reports of CSAM (Child Sexual Abuse Material) are reported for internet content. Amazon reports under 10 instances a year despite being the largest web hosting company in the world.

      I have never been able to independently verify those statistics but I have seen them in print a number of times.

      AWS was virtue signaling and pandering to the Biden Administration when they took down Parler.

  8. No problem with extending the Spotify model to journalists in order to get them paid for their work. Yes! Of course, this is just an extension of the gig-based economy. No healthcare, no PTO, no retirement 401K. Don’t be surprised, all you Republicans out there when this sort of “solution” eventually turns up the political heat for more “socialist” government solutions in turn. As of right now, the best broadcast journalism is coming through publicly funded programming. Expansion of that model should also be in the mix if you truly want to save journalism. One thing is certain, traditional advertising-based journalism is certainly nearly dead. That’s capitalism for you.

    • Yes, it is a form of the “gig economy”. However, there have been freelance writers for quite some time. What distinguishes writing from Uber drivers is the level of difficulty of the work. There is a relatively narrow gap between a good driver and an average driver. There is a much greater gap between a good writer and an average writer. This ought to slow the commoditization of the “gig” job of journalism.

      I assume you really mean “no matching contributions to 401k accounts” since solo-401k’s are available to self-employed people with no employees.

      Traditional advertising-based journalism is nearly dead. So are blacksmithing and slide rule manufacturing. That’s life for you.

      I’ve been waiting for a lull in the news cycle to write, “Does AI make socialism a certainty?” for BR. Unfortunately, that lull has been hard to find lately.

      • Mr. Rippert,

        Blacksmithing is now a hobby now with growing interests. The TV show Forged in Fire is great fun to watch.

      • Social Security also. Many don’t realize it but in the Gig economy, you still owe FICA tax. And if you don’t set aside money for it, at tax time, you end up with a significant tax bill.

        On health insurance, the ACA is critical to gig economy workers and the good thing is that it is NOT tied to the employer so no matter what work you do – it’s “portable”.

        I don’t think “news” is “dead”. There is still a strong demand for it. Folks remember the Dot.com bust. That was at least partly about business models that were supposed to be focused on the internet but turned out they were the wrong internet models. Many early failures, recalibrated and now are potent internet business models. Newspapers have not found their nirvana yet but the product they have – is still an in-demand product.

        • Anybody who doesn’t understand that self-employed people ow social security probably should look for a job with an employer that will keep them out of trouble. I’m self employed and I have to pay the combined employee and employer amount for social security – a cool 12.4% of income up to $142,500 as well as 2.9% for medicare on my entire net earnings.

          I’m not sure that there is a stable or growing demand for local / regional / state news. At least, I suspect that whatever demand exists is shrinking. My thinking around “Medium News” is partly an effort to test that demand. My hypothesis is that 30 years ago nobody was really connected to anybody – other than in through their employer and community. Now, everybody is connected to everybody via the internet, smart phones, Zoom, etc. People simply don’t have the same attachment to their local community that they once had.

          • Do volunteer taxes for new gig economy folks and first timers show up and then leave in shock.. A comment often heard is “well, hell, it’s not worth it”!

            It takes GOOD records of you expenses to make it work and even then , folks realize that their “pay” is a lot less than they thought.

            Almost none have 401Ks. Most can barely afford health insurance, etc…

        • Yes, people who work for themselves need to budget for, and pay, taxes. It takes some self-discipline. And “yes,” there are times when it pinches cash flow and other times when it’s not even a bit of a burden.

          Keep in mind that, while a self-employed person may have to pay 15.3% on the first $137K of earnings for 2020 and 2.9% on the rest, one gets a credit for 50% of the 15.3% on federal income taxes.

          • A lot of folks are new to the gig economy and a lot of them are in the lower economic tier… uber drives don’t exactly make a killing at that work.

            Usually when we say “gig” , we don’t mean self-employed professionals… who have been doing work that way for decades.

    • I’ve been a gig lawyer for more than 15 years. I’ve turned down (twice) opportunities to become an employee of the firm where I do most of my work. I also have some direct clients, whose revenues I would need turn over to the firm if I became an employee.

      With the firm, I have a fair fee-splitting arrangement. I do get health insurance from my wife’s plan. But that’s been happening for more than 20 years, even when I was an employee of two law firms that offered insurance. What I pay to my wife to reimburse her for the premiums provides better coverage at no higher cost. (There was a period when I worked for a large company where I covered her and my kids on my health insurance.)

      I get to deduct all of my business expenses for tax purposes. That includes both my contribution to my retirement plan and my business’ contribution to my retirement plan.

      I don’t want any changes to what I have. Leave me alone. I like gig work.

      • Nobody is suggesting restricting the fig business model, just that there ought to be alternatives is all. Single people over 26 are certainly getting a short stick health insurance-wise as you demonstrate clearly.

  9. It’s not journalism but click bait.

    • It’s not anything until you apply the business model and software to journalism. All I want from Medium is a copy of their software. After that, the resulting business is whatever the business operators make of it. For example, my more detailed plan includes the requirement for an experienced editor to be hired for each state before articles can be written covering that state. Medium today, by design, is still too unstructured to function as a journalistic operation.

  10. Its all fund and games until you’re Cancelled

    • Then, it’s hilarious? Kinda like getting an eye put out, eh?

    • Like a cat, pseudonyms give posters nine lives. When Nancy_Naive started having problems with his ID he started popping up in the comments section under other IDs. It’s hard to cancel a ghost.

      • AKA sock puppet.

        “a hand puppet made out of a sock.
        a person or group whose actions are controlled by another; a puppet.
        Also called sock . a false name or identity assumed by an internet user, often to communicate favorable or self-serving comments or used to create a mythical rival with whom that user can successfully argue online.
        Also called sock, sock account . an online user account created for such purposes.”

      • Okay. That was a phish… here it is. YOU WERE RIGHT! Frame it.

        It surely was a WordMess glitch. Have you seen the second alias since? You said that you had to create multiple accounts in the past. Are you MPD? Multiple personality disorder.

        Then they’re are simply twits. Not you.

        • All of my names were versions of my real name. Nobody calls me “DJ” other than on this blog. But that’s where my musical chairs game of WordPress IDs landed me. Next up, “Rip-Dog” … which I do get called by old college friends.

          • I have been Nancy_Naive since December 1998 across a dozen sites and hosts. I chose the name based on a series of jokes similar to “Little Moron” jokes.

            I started on a stock messageboard and by the end of the first day was being ripped because I was a “woman” who didn’t have a clue. That was a shocker; never mind that at the time, I was investing a lot more money than the idiots that were ripping on me.

            Opened my eyes to sexism, even if I am a sexist pig. It was a two year “Black Like Me” experience until I slipped up and mentioned “my wife”. Thought about trying a black persona next just to witness racism from the receiving end, but then thought better of it and just stuck with Nancy.

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