Now I love free news. It’s a real privilege for us to be able to access, for free, what domestic and foreign reporters toil and trudge over for hours, days, weeks and sometimes months. We’re pretty lucky and most of us don’t know it.
News websites make ad revenue, that’s how they stay afloat, that’s how they make their money and keep content free. Sometimes they have really kind, noble and hardworking writers who will write for no pay (*ahem*), just to be heard as a part of the internet news and opinion landscape.
But as a journalism student and someone who has a future in the field of news-gathering and reporting, I have to say, against all my Indian instinct, that the journalist in me (he comprises about 90% of my soul) is beginning to hate the person who created the first free news website.
Amidst all this horribly daunting news about the news industry, amidst all this talk and inquiry into the future of journalism and whether or not traditional journalism is dead, I feel as though some free news websites have contributed to this problem. Not websites like Blast, which has a solid group of talented writers who have day jobs or are in school.
I mean big news websites that also have material publications, ones you can pick up, touch, flick through and sometimes, cause you to bust out the soap to get that damn black ink off your fingers. The best kind.
Papers, which are owned by parent companies that often have television stations and websites in their portfolios, are going under. They have no money. When they want to charge for content online, people just go elsewhere. It makes sense. I did it when the Times started the “Times Select” fiasco.
If newspapers die, which is still a big IF for me, ad revenue and all the money they get from being online won’t keep them afloat. It won’t pay for investigative journalism, it won’t pay for local reports and it won’t pay for hard-hitting interviews with big name screw-ups.
It’ll pay for news wires. It’ll pay for shitty, generic reports and day-to-day affairs. Nothing with any real substance. Nothing worth more than a few hundred words. Nothing worth much.
I can’t and won’t be subjected to a field like that. I didn’t get into journalism to report on the farmer who breeds super-strong pigs (can’t get swine off my mind). I got into the business to educate the public and to bring hard new stories and internationally relevant developments to light. I got into the business to, essentially, help people. And I refuse to settle for doing anything less.
Salon already charges for content. Soon Variety and News Corp. will, too. And while I don’t have any desire to read anything put out by News Corp. besides The Wall Street Journal, my emotions are mixed.
In a time of recession where online advertisers are spending a little less, free news websites are having trouble staying above rumbling waters. Even student newspapers are feeling the pinch. The Eyeopener, my university’s student-run publication, cut itself in half because of reduced advertising dollars.
I want my news quick and free, but in this age, and with all this going on, that isn’t a realistic possibility anymore. It sucks but it’s true.
We’ll always need the news and while people will be angry, they will pay for it in whatever medium they choose, whether it be online, print or television.
Realistically, at least in my opinion, it’s necessary to make journalism an honorable and noble profession again. There are too many hacks in the industry writing unedited garbage that gets published just because it’s cheap to manufacture and pump out.
Let’s bring it back to the days of Murrow, Cronkite, Woodward and Bernstein. Let’s manufacture and allow a new generation of Cooper’s. At the very least, let’s help prevent more like Stephen Glass.
But you, and I, need to pay up.