Adriaan Basson | A new era for news as News24 prepares to launch digital subscriptions

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and fellow panellists at News24’s post-budget Frontline event, moderated by editor-in-chief Adriaan Basson. (News24)
Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and fellow panellists at News24’s post-budget Frontline event, moderated by editor-in-chief Adriaan Basson. (News24)
  • News24 to launch a digital subscription next month.
  • Most of News24's breaking news will remain free-to-read but premium content will only be available to paying subscribers.
  • In June, 13 million unique users logged onto the News24 site.

The cat is finally out of the bag - News24 is launching a digital subscription service next month.

Like many of our peers internationally, we will be introducing a freemium paywall, which means most of our breaking news will remain free-to-read, but premium content will only be available to paying subscribers.

This is a landmark moment for all of us at News24; something we've been dying to tell you about since we started this journey to build a sustainable model for quality journalism almost two years ago.

Over the next few weeks, as we move closer to our official launch, we will tell you more about our subscription service and why we believe there has never been a more important time to invest in quality journalism than now.

Why this and why now?

READ : OPINION | 500 journalists may have just lost their jobs while quality news is more important than ever

Last year, News24 turned 21. Since 1998, we have established ourselves as the most trusted source for breaking news, sport, business and lifestyle content in South Africa. Throughout this period, we were free-to-read.

You have come to love and trust us for breaking the news. We want to strengthen the trust-relationship we have with you.

On 9/11 in 2001, we told you that two passenger airliners had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, changing the course of history. In February 2004, we sent you a breaking news alert when Charlize Theron became the first South African to win the Oscar for best actress.

And on 5 December 2013, we cried with you as the news broke that former president Nelson Mandela had died.

We take great pride in the fact that we are South Africa's largest website. In June, more than 13 million unique users turned to News24 for the truth. Since the coronavirus hit our shores in early March, our audience has almost doubled. On any given day, we now have around 1.5 million unique users reading News24's journalism.

And for the second year in a row, the Reuters Institute at Oxford University confirmed that News24 was the most trusted source of news in South Africa.

This is a great privilege and responsibility we don't take lightly.

Over the past four years, we have deepened our journalism by building on our breaking news offering with investigative journalism, in-depth analysis, podcasts, documentaries and top opinions.

Our journalists don't report from the sidelines of social media; we get our hands dirty and run into places where others flee from.

To continue and expand our probing journalism even further, we need your investment.

The traditional media business model is all but broken. Just last week, Media24 announced the possible retrenchment of 500 employees. This follows similar announcements by other media houses, including the SABC.

When I started my career as a crime reporter in Johannesburg in 2003, the model was simple. We wrote stories for our newspaper. In-between our stories, businesses paid to advertise their products and services. On top of that, you, the reader, paid us a small amount to read the news. The company had two income streams: advertising and circulation.

The model was sustainable and delivered some of the best journalism the country and the world had seen. Newsrooms were full and journalism thrived.

But all of this has changed. Print media has all but reached the end of its glorious lifespan, but we cannot let quality journalism die with paper and ink. We need to build a sustainable model for quality, digital journalism.

Who will cover the Magistrates' Courts, town councils and police stations if we no longer have regional and local newspapers?

A sustainable model of quality, digital journalism cannot survive through advertising revenue alone. Although we will continue to ask South African corporates to send their marketing rands to local publishers, rather than the technology behemoths in Silicon Valley and Ireland, a new model simply has to include some form of reader revenue.

The model we have opted for is called freemium - a mixture of free and premium journalism in one hub. We understand that not all of you are in a position to take out a subscription; we will continue to publish breaking news in the public interest for free.

We will tell you more about what you can expect from News24's subscription offering in the coming days and weeks.

We have exciting announcements to make: extra features and other titles that will form part of one, single subscription.

In 2011, the New York Times, arguably the world's best newspaper, was in financial trouble. That year, the paper launched digital subscriptions against a wave of scepticism that readers wouldn't pay for news they could always read for free.

By 2018, the New York Times had 2.5 million digital subscribers, and two years later the number had doubled to over 5 million. The sceptics were wrong.

The New York Times was not alone. The Boston Globe; Dagbladet in Norway; Folha de S.Paulo in Brazil, Expressen in Sweden; Le Monde in France; the Financial Times; the Daily Telegraph; Bild in Germany; Gazeta Wyborcza in Poland; The Globe and Mail in Canada, and the Washington Post have all launched successful subscription models.

I invite you to enter this new era for News24 with us.

What do you think of this news? Do you have suggestions for me and my team on how to make sure our digital subscriptions is a success? Please send us an email with your thoughts and suggestions.

- Adriaan Basson is editor-in-chief of News24

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