"Everyone's aware that the news industry is in crisis and no one's really worked out how to offer content for free, pay journalists and make a profit," says William Stolerman, founder of The News Hub, a publishing platform he hopes will be able to do all three. "There are only a couple of businesses that are cashflow positive. I don't think it should be that way."
The question of cashflow has dogged traditional journalism since the digital revolution spread advertising and readerships wide and thin around the internet. The resultant loss of income has led to cutbacks, closures, redundancies and, for some, concerns of a decline in quality in terms of the content being produced.
But The News Hub, set to launch in the coming months, hopes to offer an alternative – allowing journalists and bloggers to upload content that readers can access for free.
"One of the issues with publications today is that running a central news team is prohibitively expensive," Stolerman told Journalism.co.uk, "which is why we're not going to have a central news team. And the other is how can you make money and I think we've come up with a solution to both those problems."
Anyone can upload content, be it reports, features or multimedia, and based on the number of pageviews and "net upvotes" articles receive from readers each month, the top 10 percent of contributors will receive a fee.
That fee will only be $10 when the site launches but Stolerman promises the amount will increase as the site grows.
"We realise that's not a lot of money, not a competitive rate, but the point is to show on principle that we're a paying platform," Stolerman told Journalism.co.uk, "and to begin with we're not going to generate any revenue, which is why it limits what we can pay. It still shows on principle what we stand for which is to show a sustainable model for journalism."
Display advertising will play a key role in generating the necessary income, but Stolerman is playing his cards close to his chest with regarding the rest of the business model.
The News Hub partigle page, showing (anti-clockwise from top left) a poll, section menu, article and display advertising
"The business model is the USP," he said, "but in short we've got a three-part revenue stream and we're already lining up sales partners. The two keys, I think, to online publishing are one being a lean news title and the other is how to make money."
While further details of the revenue stream would be made public "at a later date", the lean nature of the organisation keeps costs down and turns some elements of quality control and verification over to the community.
"Users can report offensive content, incorrect content, libellous content – or content that they perceive to be libellous – and a report will be sent to us which will allow us to take it down," Stolerman said. "There will also be an in-house moderation team going around the site which will try to moderate as well as we can but we will be moderating after publishing."
Because the readers will have the ability to vote on articles, in a similar manner to Reddit, Stolerman believes a natural incentive is created for accurate, quality content, especially when the writers are legally responsible for the content they post to The News Hub.
"The whole point is for us to have a system of incentive and disincentive for quality," he said. "If you write a rubbish piece of content that is based online it's highly likely that it will get down-voted and if it gets down-voted you're definitely not going to get paid."
Creating an audience
All content will be accessible for readers but if they sign up they can personalise their experience by following certain journalists or topics that are of particular interest.
The site will launch with a focus on politics and football, Stolerman said, and the issues of Scottish independence and the World Cup will get more prominence within that as Stolerman and his team reach out to writers on both sides of the argument, create polls and foster debate.
By beginning with such engaging and potentially divisive issues, he hopes to build an audience and community that can then expand to support other areas that contributors may write about.
"Our aim is not to get too involved in the editorial side of things," he said, "but one thing we will do is reach out to people on both sides of a particular debate. Although we don't stand for a particular side, we do stand for debate."
Another area where Stolerman and his team will take an active interest is in promoting content about a big story, such as the death of Nelson Mandela or the NSA scandal, with its own individual feed of content.
"You'll be able to see that story as it evolves," he said, "there'll be video content from the ground, there'll be polls about it, interactive features. It's not just a simpler way to engage with a particular issue, it's a more powerful news experience because it's not just about consumption."
The News Hub user home page
A recurring issue in breaking news on the internet is the problem of verification, and The News Hub will combine elements of crowdsourcing and moderation in making sure content on the site is accurate.
Although it will not be included initially, a "critique" area of the site will launch in a future iteration, Stolerman said, allowing readers to highlight paragraphs or articles which may be contentious. In such cases the author can alter their article, add evidence to substantiate a claim or submit evidence to be reviewed by the The News Hub team, with the result affecting the article's eligibility for payment.
"One of the great things about the internet is that people have no qualms about hauling you over the coals for writing something that is inaccurate," Stolerman said. "I don't think we'll have any problem with people having their say and saying 'this is rubbish'.
"One of the interesting things about something like Reddit is that everybody fact-checks claims and if we can create a community that is half as engaged as that, and takes care over the content, then we'll be in a very good position."
The News Hub bears similarities to other projects around the industry. Aside from Stolerman's enthusiasm for Reddit and its voting system, Forbes has a similar model in allowing contributors to submit their own content and receive payment based on engagement, and last year Jurnid launched as a platform for journalists to publish with their own paywall.
Interested journalists and readers can sign up for more information on the landing page before the full site launches in beta towards the end of February, he said, and be part of what he sees as the evolution of the industry.
"Until people stop making piecemeal change and come up with a wholesale new product the industry will continue to lurch further into crisis," Stolerman said. "I'm a big believer that news requires change and that change is a good thing. This is an exciting time for the industry rather than the death knell."
Update: Stolerman asked for this article to be updated with additional information about the "critique" system and to clarify his quote regarding sales partners.
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