The Ken on holding the line on paid journalism in a pandemic

What we learned from The Ken.

Takeaways

  1. Covid-19 is an opportunity to assert the need for paid, quality journalism
  2. “As journalists, while we understand the chaos and disruption that Covid-19 will cause, we also realize as business journalists it’s going to remake entire economies and businesses.”
  3. The Ken puts 20% of stories — mainly public interest content — outside its paywall

Context

The Ken, an India-based tech publication that releases one reported story a day, launched its biggest offering yet on March 9th — a Southeast Asia-focused site and newsletter with a team of five reporters across the region.

It took a year to plan. In January, they flew their team from six countries into Bangalore. Two months ago, they began to plan their launch strategy. But a week after their Southeast Asia launch in March, their plan was derailed by country-level lockdowns, while the industries that they hoped to report on seemed paralysed.

 

The pandemic also presents opportunities

CEO Rohin Dharmakumar on Low-Res about how they’ve made peace with these shifts and used the pandemic as an opportunity to assert the need for paid, quality journalism. “As journalists, while we understand the chaos and disruption that Covid-19 will cause, we also realize as business journalists it’s going to remake entire economies and businesses,” he said.

The Ken is examining the long-term ripples of what will happen as a result of the pandemic. Dharmakumar describes these as “second and third order effects” that will happen across sectors, like: 

  • Chronicling and critiquing changing regulations
  • Challenging the assumptions that the venture capital industry is built on
  • Taking note of the best practices that will bloom in a new world across countries

“We don’t see it as something that will happen over weeks or months, we see it as something that will happen over 18 months,” Dharmakumar said.

Dharmakumar admits that many may question the paywall now, especially as budgets are tightening. But roughly 20% of stories — especially those that are public interest and, at the moment, pertinent to coronavirus — are offered for free. 

He said The Ken will never discount because stable prices mark perceived value. Any changes in pricing have come from referral or loyalty-based programs. “Paywalls are how we fund our newsroom,” he emphasized.

Meghna is a writer in New York. Previously, she helped launch and was the managing editor of New York-based The Juggernaut, worked as a researcher at CB Insights, and reported on tech out of Bangalore for Tech in Asia. Follow Meghna Rao on Twitter.

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