A Mocha Frappuccino at Starbucks will cost you $4 — which is why Holly and I call the franchise “Fourbucks” — but I digress. Would you be willing to pay as much for accurate, informative news reports for a week as you would for one cup of tricked-out coffee?
I raise these questions because a tweet exchange this week between Oakland U alum Ross Maghielse — an audience analyst and journalist at The Philadelphia Inquirer — and Dallas News reporter Claire Ballor caught my attention:
Going to take this as an opportunity to throw out a reminder that journalists aren’t volunteers and that subscriptions allow serious journalism orgs (not clickbait sites) to fund the work they do. https://t.co/eo1Ljjy6rb
— Claire Ballor (@claireballor) January 20, 2018
The rate at which the sentiment this tweet responds to exists is unbelievably frustrating. News is not a public service. When done well, it serves the public, but it largely lives as any other business. That means paying for it. https://t.co/maKVgP6DOE
— Ross Maghielse (@Maghielse) January 21, 2018
Ross and Claire reminded me that it’s critical for journalism instructors today to sermonize on behalf of our talented, ambitious students who want to enter this field and earn a living wage. Three points:
- Journalists exist because people need to know what has happened and why.
- The production of well-reported, factual, timely news reports is expensive and difficult — and those reports have never been more important than today.
- The digital delivery of news and information is the best system invented so far, but there’s an overarching problem. The people formerly known as the audience — to borrow Jay Rosen’s term — seem resistant to paying for it.
Consider this: For more than a century, advertisers in the U.S. subsidized the cost of gathering and delivering the news. The ad system provided the audience with print and broadcast reports at a ludicrously low cost. As the 21st Century arrived, however, the web wrecked the subsidy system, and media responded by giving away their content online.
Today, I encounter news users who have grown accustomed to the idea that information should be free. Silicon Valley futurist Stewart Brand coined the expression “information wants to be free” in 1984, but that saying is often taken out of context to defend an unwillingness to compensate the people gathering the information.
If you explore the full quote in context, Brand said:
“On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time.”
Now you see what he meant.
Here’s the nut paragraph: People will always need information. It has value. Quality journalism matters today more than ever. We must be willing to pay for it.
Holly and I put our checkbook behind our sermon. We subscribe to the digital New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the print Detroit Free Press. We make contributions to NPR, The Guardian and Bridge Michigan.
Unless we’re willing to pay for quality journalism, “we’re all going to pay for it,” warns John Oliver in this clever four-minute spot from his show.
What are your thought$ on paying for new$?
Adorable puppy photo used with permission. Theilr, CC BY-SA 2.0