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Valuing and sourcing fundraising news in the age of paywalls

Howard Lake | 21 November 2011 | Blogs

With Third Sector’s announcement last week that it is to start charging for access to information on its website, it seems that we’ve come full circle.
Twelve years or so ago, you paid for most published information. Magazines charged for subscriptions and those that didn’t probably didn’t publish much to charge for. Then the internet came along, with a mixture of paid for and free information, with free information definitely gaining the upper hand in terms of quantity, and quite often quality as well.
This year two charity publications (Charity Insight and Caritas) in the UK have closed and now here we are with one of the biggest publishers in the voluntary sector charging for news again.
But is it the same? Not to my mind. In the last decade the sheer amount of information available has increased to the point that it makes you dizzy just to think about it.
Where 10 years ago you could get all the news and a lot of the information you needed from the half dozen or so publications that were around, now you have a fantastic choice. Wow, just think you can find out about the most recent legacy research, get the most up-to-date figures on individual giving in the downturn, read the latest news on finance in the voluntary sector, discover what the Charity Commission is up to, how social media can make your fortune and why direct marketing is or isn’t working.
But where do you get all this information from? How long would it take you, even with RSS feeds and websites like www.fundraisingdetective.com to do some of the legwork for you? How many different places do you visit to get a good overview of what’s happening in the sector? Will you have any time left to do what you’re actually paid to do?
And this presents at least three issues. One – with so much free information, opinion, blogging out there, how do you know which are the quality sources to trust and value? Some of us rely on other Twitter users to alert us to what’s going on, what’s important and what’s not, making it more likely we’ll go for peer recommendation rather than publisher recommendation. The virtual grapevine has a knack of sorting out what’s really relevant.
And two – what value do we put on it? Will fundraisers and others pay for their weekly news and opinion when so much of it is already out there for free. It’s about 18 months since The Times introduced its paywall and with over 100,000 subscribers paying £8.67 a month, there’s no sign of it taking it down again, despite initial scoffing from the critics who said no-one would pay for news.
And three – given that we all have jobs to do as well, does this mean that acquiring a wider knowledge of the sector will again take a back seat and see people only reading and learning about their own little bit of it. A return to silo thinking in other words.
Now that really would be a shame.