Monday, August 8, 2016

Paying for It: On the Slow Death of Journalism

I watch Last Week Tonight pretty faithfully, but I do Monday mornings on YouTube rather than subscribe to HBO. Last night's show was all about the problem with people like me who don't pay for journalism:

If we don't pay for papers, we're not going to have any more real journalism with any semblance of integrity. And most people really do want to look at puppies over news. They won't seek out stories on bombing Libya, or Israel's control over water, or US support in Syria. It has to be the top headline of the day or the first thing they see when they turn on the news at night, or else they'll just never know. Remember when everyone watched the 11:00 news every single night, and parents were all prompted to check on their children?

Things are radically different now. I get most headlines from following people on facebook and twitter who share news intelligently, and from following fellow bloggers. It feels more like a civic duty these days to share the news personally instead of counting on the populous to follow well. I try to share an important quote or brief summary with the article because I know too many people who form opinions based entirely on the headline without ever reading the article. That's one issue that's hard to solve.

But I think we can save journalism - online at least.

I used to subscribe to my local paper, but they would just pile up for recycling, most of it unread because the stories are all online. I subscribe to Philosophy Now only because I know I'll read the whole thing. Most papers don't cater to my particular interests throughout, so I love that I can pick and choose articles about different topics from different sources. That's one delightful benefit of the internet. I have an on-line subscription to the NYT, and I sometimes donate to Truthdig, but then I read and watch a ton of news that I don't pay for at all.

But, here's the thing: I would pay for it if it were easy to do. I don't want to fill in a form and subscribe to the whole paper because there's just too much there I won't read. It feels like I'm being ripped off when a couple busy weeks go by and I haven't read anything. But I would happily pay for individual articles. I'd likely even pay more per month on individual articles than I would for the whole paper without even noticing.

It has to be easy though because I'm really lazy. Amazon's model is perfect. Whenever I look at a book cover, it prompts me with a "One-Click Payment" option. I set it up once, and now I'm screwed. My local bookstore should do the same thing!  If the paywall on an article asked for a dollar or two to keep reading, and I just have to click a button for the blocker to go away and money to come out of my Paypal account, I'd click that button! I'd even click to pay extra to have the article ad-free!

Louis CK figured this out for his concerts and his newest TV show. I get alerts when a new episode is ready, and I pay a couple bucks to watch it. I can download it and share it if I want to, but why bother? There's no point sharing it when everyone can get it so cheaply and easily.

But here's the important bit: I don't think twice about forking over a couple bucks for each episode, but I would never pay $31 for the season, even though it's cheaper. Nobody cares about dropping some change here and there, but a larger amount for a longer time is daunting. I'm not sure I can commit to watch the whole thing.

It's not that we're too poor or thieving to pay for shows or articles; we just don't want to pay for all that extra stuff, and we don't want to have to do anything too complicated to see what we want to see right this minute. I would only really work if it became adopted by all print media at once, though. And then I might even have more time in the day because I'm not about to check out clickbait that actually costs me.


The Mound of Sound said...

I think back to the days when I had subscriptions to the Ottawa Citizen, the Gazette and The Globe. As a broadcast reporter I needed them. They went downhill since the 70s as corporate journalism came to dominate Canada's news media. I now subscribe to The Guardian (online) and a few magazines: Foreign Policy, Aviation Week, Harper's and the New Yorker. For Canadian content I rely on The Tyee, the Vancouver Observer and its companion, National Observer.

I've written many times that an essential prerequisite to democratic restoration in Canada is to tear down the corporate media cartel. We used to understand this peril. It was explored in the Davey Commission (1970) and again by the Kent Commission (1981). We know the importance of a broadly owned, independent news dynamic (print, TV and radio) as the essential means for maintaining a well informed electorate capable of voting meaningfully.

There are many today who argue that electoral reform will solve all problems. Hardly. If the electorate is confused, confounded or misled, how they vote matters little. When their vote has been manipulated through corrupted media messaging, the outcome is deliberately predictable.

Capturing the public's outlook precludes anything that could be considered informed consent. It is manufactured consent and that is an extremely valuable and marketable commodity. It's a building block for political capture of the sort so well established today in the US with its "bought and paid for" Congress. This was confirmed in the 2014 Gilens study out of Princeton that concluded in America democracy had been very effectively supplanted by oligarchy.

You won't hear Trudeau or Mulcair and certainly not Ambrose denounce the media for its disservice to the Canadian public. You won't hear them calling for the breakup of the media cartel. It's then appropriate to ask if we aren't watching early onset political capture developing in Canada also.

Marie Snyder said...

Yes, that's the other problem with current media. Even if they can afford to keep going, there are few papers with journalistic standards apart from political and corporate influence.