I was listening to On The Media rehash the events from the Senate’s Future of Journalism hearing where proposals were made for saving the American newspaper. I say American newspaper because I am unaware whether technology is also killing off news outlets in other countries, or if they have found solutions for saving themselves.
The problem is that for quality journalism, a publication must hire quality journalists. However—through the advent of the internet with its free access to news through searches, blogs, Twitter, and the like—people are no longer willing to pay for their news. This in turn, means the quality of the news has significantly degraded. The people reporting the news are not trained journalists, but are common people spreading (mis)information.
Sometimes, bloggers have first-hand knowledge of what they are reporting, and that can be useful, but it is often biased, filled with emotion, and missing supporting facts. In most cases, like this, bloggers are just adding their own opinion to what they have read or heard elsewhere. What I write here is not news, but is an aggregation of news that I found interesting throughout the day, littered with my opinion and thoughts.
But readers now expect immediate information, which is hard to do when facts have to be verified and reputations and lawsuits are on the line. Readers are more willing to forgive a blogger for passing on misinformation than they are willing to forgive a legitimate news source, but they aren’t willing to wait for the news source to produce a report, or pay for it when it is ready. News in a daily newspaper is already old by the time it reaches the stands. Weekly newspapers and magazines have an even harder time trying to determine the value they can add in a digital age. Monthly magazines shouldn’t try to report news at all.
The news media is trying to stay afloat. Weekly magazines are doing more analysis of the week’s events rather than reporting. Both weekly and daily news outlets are using technology to promote the news, but they aren’t making enough money from the advertising to pay for the resources they need to create the news. They have cut back staff and taken pay cuts to stay alive until they figure out how to make money. Just this week, The Boston Globe almost went under.
I have to admit, I am part of the problem. I expect news to be free. I’ve only ever bought a newspaper subscription when guilted into it by some kid knocking on my door, but now my guilt for saving the environment is stronger. I have one magazine subscription, and the only reason I subscribe is to support a friend who writes for it. Ironic, since his stories are usually published online and I read them the day before I receive the magazine in the mail. And I listen to the news on the radio on NPR, but have only ever pledged money after 9/11.
I’ve added The New York Times and the Mercury News to my twitter feeds. I’d love to have the Bangor Daily News and The Piscataquis Observer so that I might read news from home.
I like the Twitter feed model for news because I have a link when the article is posted, I can read the title and decide if I want to keep reading. Most articles I skip until something piques my interest. It doesn’t feel as time consuming as reading a newspaper—I don’t have that much free time. And I don’t have to search for stories, they come to me.
I’ve totally given up on sites like Slashdot and Digg because I don’t like wading through the crap. But would I pay to be able to click on the links from Twitter? I don’t use the Wall Street Journal because I have to pay for that. Or used to. Maybe I don’t anymore.
So what would make me pay for the news? And how much would I pay? Some say the media outlets could charge per article like a song on iTunes. The problem is that I usually hear songs on the radio for free before I buy it. Once I read an article, I am unlikely to read it again.
Some think the Kindle is the be-all solution to the problem. But I don’t have a Kindle because that is like buying a calculator. I already have a calculator on my phone and my computer, why would I want a separate device for it?
Some think the NPR model, becoming a non-profit and asking for donations might work for larger media outlets. It might. Today I made a pledge to KQED. And I pledged more than I was going to pledge because I read through the benefits you get as a member and I wanted to do some of the stuff that people who pledge more get to do. And because I like the quality of their reporting. And when I want to know the truth about what is happening in regards to a news event, I go to NPR. So I’m willing to pay to have them continue reporting. I also chose not to get a gift because I want all the money to go towards NPR/KQED.
I also read the NYTimes to find the real story. I’m close to buying a NYTimes subscription, but I don’t want physical paper. I just asked Meme to cancel my Reader’s Digest subscription and instead give me a subscription to The Piscataquis Observer so that I will have more stuff to talk to her about.
So what would make you pay for your news?