We got word a few days ago that the Oklahoma City newspaper will no longer deliver to our town, an hour and a half away. So my longtime habit of reading the newspaper during my morning coffee will come to an abrupt end. I realize that I am among the last Americans to actually read newspapers, so I will probably survive, but I am mourning the fast-approaching end of a medium.
The paper will still deliver in its city, of course, and it will be online, for a subscription fee. The Daily Oklahoman was bought by a big national corporation that holds lots of other papers, and I have watched as it has gotten thinner and thinner, its corporate masters squeezing it down to try to make it profitable. Now it has taken the step of saving newsprint, transportation, and delivery expenses by not sending it to the hinterlands.
But it is only a matter of time when the city itself no longer has physical newspapers either. And why should they? Why have floppy paper objects at all, which have to be physically manufactured and transported, when it’s possible to just post the stories online and let people have access to them instantaneously?
I enjoy my hard-copy, tactile newspaper, but of course I get much of my news online. We are all used to getting our news free that way, so why pay for a subscription at all?
The problem is, most of the news we get from the internet–Google News, Apple News, Drudge Report, etc.–is from news aggregators. That is, sites that link to newspapers. And while we don’t need the news to be actually printed on paper, the stories need to be written by someone, who needs to be paid for doing so. Gathering news and writing it up is hard work, and few people would do it without being paid.
Can newspapers migrate online while charging a subscription fee? Some of the big ones–the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post–are doing this, with, I am told, quite a bit of success. The smaller ones, not so much, though I’ll probably try with the Oklahoman. There have been some online news and information ventures, which paid their writers, but those are in financial trouble too.The whole promise of the internet was the decentralization of information, but it seems like it is centralizing all over again. What I’ll miss is the local news, which can hardly attract any kind of national following that could be profitable.
And if all newspapers go under and journalists can’t get jobs, news on the internet will be reduced to gossip, hearsay, and “fake news.” Oh, wait. That is already happening.
Journalists haven’t been doing themselves any favors for their profession by their flagrantly biased coverage and patronizing stance towards their readers. No wonder the reputation of the news media has become so negative.
But we do need reporters and news media. Otherwise, how can citizens be informed enough to participate in the democratic process?
The internet wants to be free, as they used to say. That is, we want everything on the internet to be free. So far the business model has been for sites to make money from advertising. This has led directly to the violations of privacy that we are complaining about today, as technology is used to learn everything about us so that ads can be effectively targeted. I wonder if other revenue models might be possible. For example, perhaps a Netflix-like system could be developed, where people could subscribe for various packages of sites.
Time Magazine‘s Person of the Year for 2018 are “the Guardians”; that is, the persecuted journalists of the world. That’s fine. Saudi Arabia’s murder of Jamal Khashoggi was indeed outrageous. Dictators and authoritarian governments–such as those of Russia and China–do try to silence journalists and control the information that gets to the people. (Conflict of American journalists with Donald Trump doesn’t compare to what those journalists go through, though American journalists make that comparison.)
At any rate, what could reform the profession of journalism? What could make news ventures profitable?
And will I be able to read the news on a computer or Kindle over coffee in the morning, as I did with a newspaper?
Photo via Pixabay, CC0, Creative Commons