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Thanks to our listeners, readers, and donors: Three key insights from The Hub’s year in review

News

In a recent episode of Hub Dialogues, Rudyard Griffiths, The Hub’s executive director, and Sean Speer, editor-at-large, got together for their annual conversation about The Hub itself, including its progress over the past year, opportunities and challenges for the year ahead, and their gratitude to The Hub community for its tremendous support. Here are three key takeaways from their discussion.

1. One-in-four know The Hub

“This year, just a month or so ago, we commissioned our pollster, who we really like, Heather Bastedo at Public Square Research, to reach out to Leger to put The Hub on one of its national internet panels. There are a couple of hundred thousand people that Leger polls online. I mentioned online because numbers are going to tell you and reflect, in a sense, the awareness of an online savvy audience. Amongst that group of Canadians, The Hub has an awareness of about one-in-four. One-in-four have said that they’ve listened to and or read The Hub. They’re aware of it. About one-in-twenty said they’re engaged and they’re regularly consuming our content.

That’s really cool for us because when we put ourselves up against other independent news outlets—I’m not going to name them because we like them all, we don’t see this as a competition—our awareness of one-in-four Canadians who are aware of The Hub as an independent media brand is about double any one of our competitors.”

2. The Hub‘s unique business model

“We are funded by individual donations from readers and listeners, and from foundations. In some ways, this is terrific because we’re insulated from the kind of cost-per-click methodology that most private news and information organizations use to fund themselves. They’ve got to create content that’s going to generate the most number of clicks because they’re selling those clicks on to advertisers. We don’t have to do that.

At the same time, Sean, what we’ve really seen this year, as our readership and engagement levels increased yet another 50 percent year-over-year, is that that growth in engagement doesn’t translate into a growth in revenue because the two are not attached as they would be in a traditional media model where for every new engaged listener or reader, you’re monetizing them on a one-by-one basis. We don’t want to do that, and we can’t do that, but it’s created some interesting conversations that we’ve had about how we grow this thing if audience growth doesn’t have a linear relationship to the resources that you can aggregate to generate more growth.”

3. Thanks to our readers, listeners, and donors 

“I would just say to readers, listeners, and donors, that you’ve given us a gift. You’ve given us this extraordinary opportunity to try to build something that can make a positive contribution to Canadian public policy discourse, and ultimately create a sustainable business model. We see it as a gift. We’re humbled by the opportunity and want to do right by those who support us.”

Listen to Rudyard Griffiths’ and Sean Speer’s episode on the audio player below or on your favourite podcast app.

If you enjoy Hub Dialogues, be sure to check out more insightful commentary on The Hub’s YouTube page:

‘Writers should be hungry for readers’: Three key insights from Andrew Coyne’s Hub Dialogue

News

Earlier this week, Globe and Mail columnist Andrew Coyne spoke with Sean Speer, The Hub‘s editor-at-large, about the uncertain future of journalism and the optimism he holds despite those prospects. The two discussed the importance of making a reader’s experience with news worthwhile, how perceived political biases are diminishing trust in the media, and how the only certainty the industry can count on is that news will look different in the future. Here are three key insights from their conversation.

1. Writers should be hungry for readers

“One of the consequences of this world where we’re trying to get people to pay for newspapers and pay for magazines, etc., is you’ve got to make it worth their while. So not only do you have to buy their time that they spend reading you, but you also, individually and corporately, have to give them their money’s worth.

In the long run, I think that’s a good thing. I think that means we get a much tighter bond between the writer and the reader. Samuel Johnson, I think it was, said no man but a blockhead ever wrote but for money. Well, that was also a statement about who was paying the shot. When the reader is paying for shot, better things happen than when somebody else is paying the shot. If it’s either advertising or public funding, what’s common to both of them is that they are not creating a direct financial relationship between the writer and the reader. And, for the reasons I was saying, writers should be hungry for readers.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pander to them or reach them on a lowest common denominator basis. You can reach them in all kinds of ways. You can try and reach them at a higher level. But if you’re not writing to be read, what are you doing?”

2. Conflict of interest has consequences

“In the short run, [government funding] puts [journalists] in a conflict of interest, to say the least, and not just in terms of covering the politicians who are providing us with the funding—we can get into the real or perceived biases that come from that—but more generally, how do you make a case against bailing out another industry if your industry has been has been bailed out? You can, but you’re going to look more and more hypocritical.

And, of course, the real question is, over time, is it even going to occur to anybody? Or is the natural selection of the industry, and of the people in it, going to be more and more towards thinking ‘Well, subsidizing industry is a good thing for government to do, and it’s only a question of which industries you subsidize, and of course which players you subsidize within each industry. That’s the only real public policy question.’ I think you’re already seeing that we’re taking a massive hit in terms of our credibility. That it has become absolutely common currency to say, ‘Oh, you people are just saying X and Y because you’re hoping to get a subsidy from the government.’

I’m not looking forward at all to the next election, where one party will be foursquare in favour of all these subsidies, and another party—well we’ll see how robust the Conservatives are in their critique of it. They’re certainly against funding the CBC, but I’ll be interested to see whether Pierre Poilievre is as firm in opposing private media subsidies. If he is, how good are we going to be at covering that? There’s the perception of bias and, to some extent, the danger of the reality of bias.”

3. In the future, news will look different

“The best thing that can happen for the quality of newspapers is to allow the process to play out along this sort of Oregon trek we’re all making. To the reader, it’s not that the industry is collapsing, it’s that the industry is going through a transition, a huge historic transition. Now, not a lot of people survived the Oregon trek. So there’s going to be probably fewer of us employed, at least in recognizably general interest newspaper models.

One of the things we should say is, we have no idea what the model is going to look like in the future. It may well be the case that the ‘department store model’ of newspapers where you had a little bit of something for everybody, and you have a coalition of different reader groups, that that may be on the way out, I don’t know. But it may be that we’re going to all be much more grazers in the future. We’ll get a little bit of news from one spot, and another bit of news from another spot. It will be much more specialized types of boutique journalism. So we have to be alert to that possibility…Given that inherent unpredictability, to be betting everything on propping up the existing franchises just seems to me to be ludicrous.

So I turn this argument around, and when people say, ‘Well, how do we know where news is going to come from? And how do we know we’re going to get good quality news?’ We don’t. But all the more reason not to be placing these big bets. Let the process unfold. It’s going to be messy. It’s not going to be pleasant for a lot of people. But it’s the only way we’re going to get to the other side.”

This episode is part of The Hub‘s Future of News series in which The Hub‘s editor-at-large, Sean Speer, will be in conversation with journalists and policy thinkers to explore the challenges facing the news media industry and the respective roles of business and government to establish sustainable models for producing and distributing news and information. The Future of News series is supported and funded by The Hub’s foundation donors and Meta.

Listen to Andrew Coyne’s full interview with Sean Speer on the audio player below or on your favourite podcast app.

If you enjoy Hub Dialogues, be sure to check out more insightful commentary on The Hub’s YouTube page: