News executives, tear down those walls!


We all know how it works. You write your story, you fine-tune it. The editor revises it and makes further improvements.

But, ultimately, it’s the headline that decides if it will fly.

Having said that, are we killing what might be the best story for news media companies in a long time with a lousy caption?


Honestly, what kind of thoughts and emotions does it evoke?

I smell bricks and mortar. I see the Berlin Wall. I hear the voice of Ronald Reagan at the Brandenburg Gate: “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity… Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

If you think I’m exaggerating, do a search on paywall and see what kind of pictures you’ll find. Or look up the definitions of wall at

Honestly, an industry whose trademark is excellence in creating captivating headlines must be able to come up with something better, more appealing for something so important.

The discussion actually emerged a couple of weeks ago at the Swedish media site The editor, Axel Andén, posted a question: “What’s better than paywall?”

The response revealed some bottled-up frustration. A lot of suggestions came up. I like how Mats Rönne, a media communications specialist in Sweden, commented:

“Premium is much better. Remember the mistake of SAS (and other airline companies) to call Ryanair a low-cost company (thus identifying themselves as high-cost companies), instead of calling Ryanair a low-service or low-comfort company. Paywall does not give an incentive to proceed (only fools pay for something free), while premium (or similar) implies that the free version is not as good.”

It might be that the wall metaphor subconsciously invokes all the doom and gloom of the past years, a lack of confidence, maybe. But I’m sure we can come up with something positive, building on some of the good news we’re seeing:

“Tablets and other mobile devices have also been a boon for news organisations because they make paid digital subscriptions more attractive,” The Economist reported last week.

The smartphone takes immediacy and convenience of news delivery to a whole new level. Always on, always close to you.

And the tablet combines all the advantages of new technology with the powerful user experience of print, as I described in a previous blog post (“Tablet growth is good news for newspapers”).

So far this year, revenues from circulation at The New York Times and its global edition, International Herald Tribune, have grown by US$55 million, enough to offset the decline in advertising revenues by US$47 million.

Last week, research firm eMarketer reported that “Tablets and Smartphones Boost Digital News Usage.” The story continued, saying, “Now, smartphones and tablets may be accelerating the end of TV’s reign over the news.”

Another study, from Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, stressed that mobile Internet users who had downloaded news apps, expressing interest in news, pushed digital news consumption even further, as you can see in the chart below:

If this is a new dawn for paid content, how we baptise it should also reflect a mindset of constantly creating new services for our users, of getting content and context to become even more relevant together.

If we think building a wall and then delivering behind it the same content as ink and paper did, I’m sorry, it will not get it done.

As I’m writing, an alert gets my attention: “INMA’s 2013 Outlook Report says diversify revenue streams.” Now that’s a good headline. That’s what it will take.

But does it matter, really? It’s just a word, a caption.

Of course, it matters. From Mike Markkula Steve Jobs learned the importance of impute, which is to recognise that people form an opinion about a company or product from signals transmitted. 

“People DO judge a book by its cover,” Markkula wrote in the one-page Apple Marketing Philosophy.

So, as an industry, if we seek prosperity, if we seek relevance, let’s find something catchy. Let’s tear down this wall!

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