Spotify for News: a solution for investigative journalism


Democracies are fragile. If we want them to live and prosper, we must support their pillars. And one of them is currently under attack: journalism.

Beyond Fake News

It’s not the latest fake news epidemic that threats journalism. It is actually the other way around. Journalism is under threat and this has left the door wide open for fake news.

No, it’s not a conspiracy. The problem with journalism is financial.

With the advent of the internet, the business model of the old news organizations collapsed. Attempts to adjust to the new era have nor provided a general replacement, despite eventual success here and there.

The root of the problem is advertising. Gone are the days of the expensive full page ads. Internet does not offer something similar. And when it does, it brings in much less.

Internet ads cannot sustain adequately staffed, investigative, unbiased news teams. That’s why paywalls are on the rise among media companies. But a subscription is roughly equivalent to the newspaper price on the street, if we take out the paper costs. It was not the newspaper, the actual paper, sales that drove the income of the news outlets. It was advertising.

So, to save journalism, a new news business model is required. A business model that can generate enough revenues for news organization to thrive and prosper.

Enter the aggregator

If you ask those who continue to read the news (and care about content quality), where do they get them from, the most probable answer will be something like Flipboard. That is, not from specific “old” news brands directly.

But if this is what people like and people do, this where the monetization lies hidden.

Drawing parallels

Does this ring a bell? Certainly. We all have experienced something similar with the music industry. People don’t buy records or CD’s anymore (although the LP is making a come back, lately).

The iPod opened the way to buying single songs.And, then, came Pandora and the Spotify and their like, where you buy nothing, you own nothing, yet you can listen endlessly and at a very low cost.

A Spotify for news

Imagine a service which would be connected to all the major news organizations. Content would be categorised and served on demand much like in Flipboard. With one caveat. The content would not be free. It would require a subscription.

Another paywall? Yes. But with a difference. Paying for what one actually consumes. Proportionally.

Measuring readability is easy. And can provide the basis for splitting the subscription proceeds. So, the news orgs would continue to compete for capturing a greater audience within such an aggregator, but through other means.

What’s the difference?

… you might ask. It’s the psychology, stupid!

No hard facts here, but such a model can potentially attract a much bigger subscription base than the total aggregate of all newspaper subscribers.

Let me relate you my personal experience. In the past year, I bought subscriptions to two major publications. After a few months, I discontinued both, not because I was not satisfied with the content. On the contrary. I discontinued because I felt I did not consume enough of this content.

Why so? Because skimming content that superficially came my way through social media, I was tempted to jump here and there. But this innocent act of betrayal to my subscriptions, limited my available time. And I ended up feeling that I paid for something I was not making use of.

If the flitting behavior is our inherent preference, it should be the new black to. It should be the attitude we feel comfortable to pay for.

Is there an interested entrepreneur among my readers? Hey, you! You have a potential client here.

Have you heard the news? Literally.


The phrase of the title comes from the old times when the news, were heard, not read. The news, and about everything else.

Nowadays, hearing the news equates to radio, web-radio and podcast content consumption.

Is there any reason why bother with audio, when text and image are omnipresent? Yes, if you value the content and if you value your time.

Miss reading?

Reading on the internet is almost a joke. No-one reads. People scan a page, savour the title and a bulleted list and that’s it. Most of the time.

Which is astonishing, if you come to think of it. Compare the endless hours spent reading newspapers and magazines a few years back. These same people, now, cannot finish an article with more than 150 words.

With the internet and so many different devices, we are always connected. There is too much distraction. Too much craving for the next piece of “news”, be it a tweet, a facebook status or an instagram photo.

“Interference” is now the signal, not the noise.

But, what if you want to delve deeper on certain topics? What if you want to protect your eyesight from the constant focus on tiny phone screen letters ? What if you want to avoid the ensuing fatigue from the light the screens emit?

To add insult to injury, what if you’re over 45 and far-sightedness is already taking its toll on you. What if the casual reading of your smartphone has become tedious, without glasses? Next to impossible?

Finally, what if you were avid book reader and a life’s turn has wiped out much of your time? The time you dedicated to your relaxing hobby or personal education and development?

A personal observation

Sometimes my eyes get so wary from work that the slightest glance to my phone makes them hurt. A lot.

During weekends, when the eye pain problem afflicted me, I realised how much my life depends on seeing. And how impoverished my world would be without it.

Drop reading (no books, no tv, no computer, no phone or tablet) and immediately you are confronted with the question: “How will I fill the empty time?”.

Socialising with friends or an outdoor activity could make up for the loss. But, alas, the environment is not always amenable to our needs.

It was then that I started experimenting with the accessibility tools of my iPhone.

Tools of the “trade”

Turning on text-to-speech reading, allows one to listen to his favourite web pages .

Admittedly, this kind of synthetic voice is neither too appealing nor without mistakes. But it’s better than nothing.

Let me note here, that some years back, I was a podcaster. It’s odd to admit it, but it was not the love of audio that made me one. I was experimenting with all the new social media forms and podcasting was another one of the bunch. And I was also consuming podcast content, at times, quite a lot. So turning back to audio was no stranger to me.

After a little experimenting with the text-to-speech feature, I discovered something unexpected. Reading an article with the voice-over switched on required significantly less mental effort. Plus I enjoyed better comprehension.

This observation opened my appetite for more voice. But real voice this time, not synthetic.

Luckily, I knew of at least two websites where I could enjoy articles in audio and text form: Medium and Aeon.

Listening to articles read by professionals was a superior experience . It made me stick to this new habit.

The next step was audio books. I made a subscription to Audible and started listening. The first book went down easily. I am still struggling with the second though. Two reasons. It’s too long. And it’s rather complex, requiring extra attention from my still inexperienced ear.

I am not finished experimenting with audio books. But my feeling is that non-fiction books of the scientific kind are not well suited for the audio format. Literature, History and Politics seem better candidates.

But what about news? This is the title, remember?

Bloomberg’s app has a text-to-speech feature which works better than the one provided by the phone. For a quick catch up of the latest headlines, it works fine.

there is something even better. Curio. This I discovered through the Aeon magazine, mentioned above, as the audio content of Aeon is provided by Curio.

A subscription to Curio, provides you with a selection of articles from 20 high profile publications, beautifully read. I am already looking for other similar apps as they are worth their money.

Audio time

If you live in a big city, like me, chances are that you spent more than an hour commuting to work daily. Reading while driving is impossible. In buses and subways, it’s feasible but not enjoyable. The vehicle vibrations make the hand holding the book or phone shake. And the letter dance along with the trembling hand.

Turning on the radio is a solution. Provided you are ok with the quality of the program of modern radio stations. As for me, I listen to radio only for the music.

Commuting is suitable for listening to curio and medium, or an audio book. It makes the trip enjoyable and the listener better informed.

My journey to sound is definitely not over. All the content I am consuming so far is in English. I would like to find some in my native language too. And I would like to have the text and the audio always coupled.

If you have any suggestions, I would like to … hear them 🙂