Mathew Sanders /

What I want from digital journalism

Ten years ago my typical day started with reading the New Zealand Herald. A weekend picnic or brunch wasn’t complete without a paper to enjoy with friends. Now I might glance at the business section when I’m getting coffee before work.

Friends with newspaper at a picnic. Vondelpark, Amsterdam 2003

My needs as a reader have changed dramatically but newspapers struggled to adapt to digital formats. Here are some of the things that I think would help me value journalism more.


1. I want journalists to be opinionated

Unless you’re writing for an opinions column, journalists have long strived for objectivity: to report only facts, and leave out beliefs or judgements.

As a reader, it becomes too easy to become detached from objective reporting. Instead I want to actively engage with the story. To understand the authors viewpoint and make my own choices if I agree or disagree.

To balance subjectivity, where ever possible I want to have the opportunity to read from an alternative opinion.

3. I don’t want comments

The last time I was glad to take the time to read a comment on an article was never. Readers’ opinions should stick to product reviews where they have actual benefit.

2. I don’t want a daily digest

My biggest barrier to being a subscriber to any major newspaper is the overwhelming amount of content that is being published. There are few global events that require my immediate attention, the most content I can comfortably consume in a week is about the size of the New Yorker.

If I had access to just a few well research and written articles every week I would be happy and informed.

3. I want the backstory

For any article there will likely be a substantial amount of background information that I may or may not know about.

To help me understand complex issues I want access to key points around the history or context of the story in multiple levels of detail.1

4. I want a narrative

Current events of any importance evolve and change over time. I want to be able to take a birds-eye view of any story to see how it has developed over time.

5. I want to read on my Kindle

Since buying a Kindle I’ve leaped to reading around 60 books per year. At work I will skim articles Hacker News in brief 5 minute gaps but I never really take the time to read. For me at least, that now only happens on my Kindle.

6. I’d take data over rich media any day

For the most part, interactive graphics and video content don’t interest me. I’d happy watch a 2 hour documentary, but a 5 minute news clip just seems like a waste of time.

Instead of investment into graphics or illustration I’d like a newspaper to become a trusted repository of data2.

7. I want a paywall

And for all this (and probably quite a lot less) I’m happy to pay. I already subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify so I’m pretty sure I would subscribe to a digital newspaper if only they could provide the value that I’m looking for.

I’m even happy to accept advertising if that’s what a newspaper needs to keep profitable, as long as it’s not tacky (full screen interstitials that pop up after 10 seconds after I’ve started reading: I’m looking at you).

My biggest concern with a paywall is the obvious gap it creates for access to information for people on different incomes3.


  1. It’s amazing how well wikipedia enables this compared to how poorly major newspapers do. 

  2. For example, Pew Research seems to do a great job at this. 

  3. Perhaps a sliding scale subscription fee based on income testing could be used, although it still seems to penalize the underserved.