Old media content – New Media platform. An example.

Contemplating the Open Democracy concept – a merge of traditional media values and new media ones. This is a good example of how things could work and how things do not work when trying to apply old medium ways of thinking to a new medium. Substitute Open Democracy with numerous other websites and you get the same blog post more or less.

Traditional media values surviving in Open Democracy are strict editorial control and thorough fact – checking. New media ones are the forums, links etc.

What is wrong? Two things mainly.

First of all – why charge for subscriptions? They simply don’t work, unless we are talking about two types of sites: porn and stock market. Porn because… well, because its porn and stock market because live coverage costs money.

Now Open Democracy is “an online global magazine of politics and culture”. It has no breaking news – even if it did we could get them elsewhere for free. It has no live coverage – even if it did we rely on television for that. It publishes mostly debates which are very interesting but who would pay for them?

This is a tricky question. The style of writing in Open Democracy is neither academic nor journalistic. It is very approachable and at the same time very useful as a plateau of new ideas, opinions and visions of the future. This is all good and proper. Who reads Open Democracy? In theory everybody. In reality I think it would be students, academics, some journalists and people very very keen on politicized views (not meaning party – political but public sphere – political in the Habermas definition of the term). Do these people pay? No. Academics and journalists could pay if they claimed it as expenses. Students will rarely pay. All the rest… well, it depends on the circumstances. So. You have a narrow audience. How do you narrow it down even further? Yes, let’s charge them some money.

Admittedly the subscription is very low. Currently it is £25/$40/€40 per year. But let me be frank. Personally I ethically object to any Internet service that asks payment. I find it completely ridiculous. What can Open Democracy offer me that I can’t find elsewhere? Some good debates for my essays, I’ll grant you that, but seriously, bibliographies are usually so long that you scarcely have time to go through articles as well, especially if they are not in journals. The Internet is supposed to be a free platform, a public space. If we all start charging for views, debates and opinions it beats the purpose. What’s more it beats Open Democracy’s purpose, how does one claim knowledge and information for all and then charge? Doesn’t really cut it.

On the other hand one could ask. They provide a service. Is that service good? I think yes. So how are they going to survive? Numerous ways. Sponsoring is one – but maybe they would not like to find themselves in a compromising position, facing clashes of interest between what they want to publish and what their sponsor would like to keep quiet. Donation is another. And it is my humble opinion that for this site it will be the only one that works. Make it easy for readers to donate – use Paypal, credit and debit cards. Make them want to donate. If your content is worthwhile and your audience numerous, the website survives.

For example: Shareware and open – source software. Do you pay for it? You should. I do. If it’s good but the creators had the sense to put it out in the public domain I will pay for it or I will make a donation. It is the responsibility of those programmers and any website creators to educate the average Internet user on the benefits of open – source software and free-for-all service.

Second. On the one hand you have the articles on the other hand you have the forums. The forums are not heavily moderated. Trust me though they are HUGE. Among the “Yeah I’m down with that” and “Nah, what are you talking about” postings there are some genuinely GOOD posts. The debate in some part is interesting and varied. Is that bad? No, that’s the best part. What’s bad is that nobody has the time to browse through all the rubbish to find the gem. This is the job of the moderator. If the target is to merge good old fashioned writing with on line forums than you damn well need to show it. Link to good parts of the conversation. Summarize a good debate. Put on the front page a good idea. You gain loyalty, readability, more posts. Three in one.

The point is one doesn’t go online simply for the novelty of the medium. If you’re gonna be a website it is preferable to take advantage of the medium’s capabilities as much as possible.
- Take advantage of the forums
- Host LIVE debates and include the readers
- Link to exciting new ideas
- Fix that search engine
And that’s just for start.

It’s a great idea and I like Open Democracy very much. It needs to merge it’s two identities more effectively though. Old ideas and new ideas need a balance otherwise no clear policy or identity will ever emerge and any participation and success will dwindle irreversibly.
This post was inspired from a discussion in class with Caspar Melville, Executive Editor in Open Democracy.

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