If you are reading this from a paid print or online subscription, you already understand the obvious: there is no free news.
The maxim isn’t always obvious. Wherever you look on the Internet, the opposite seems true. News flows as freely as the air we breath.
But that’s an illusion; advertisers pay for it and in the case of the CBC, we pay for news through taxes.
One suggested alternative to paying reporters is citizen journalism. After all, don’t ordinary people flood social media with reports of their daily lives?
But can what they had for breakfast or pictures of adorable kittens really be called news?
A myriad of citizens, cameras in hand, record the details of street life ranging from the mundane to the momentous. Without context, it’s all just noise.
The question is not whether news is free but rather, who is going to pay for it?
Advertisers have traditionally supported the cost of news with 80 per cent of revenues and the remainder from paid subscriptions. That business model is coming apart as advertising
dollars are spread thin over the Internet.
In an attempt to make ends meet, many newspapers have erected paywalls.
Paywalls allow for limited free views before charging for content. Netizens find this tactic laughable. They balk at paying for what they regularly get for free. There are so many ways around paywalls: delete browser cookies that track the number times you access a site; circumvent paywalls by using instructions freely distributed on the
Internet; follow story links from Twitter or Facebook; use news aggregators such as Google and Reddit.
All big-city Canadian newspapers now use paywalls. The Toronto Star was the last hold-out before joining the gated community this month. They are hoping against hope that online readers will pitch in and save the industry.
However, given the resistance of net-savvy readers, it will be a tough sell. Bigger and better newspapers might be the answer.
That’s been the experience of the Orange County Register in California which is investing in more reporters and bigger newspapers.
“It’s working,” marvelled editor Ken Brusic.
Time will tell if the Register’s success is real or just a fluke.
Despite the gloom, Canadians still rely on newspapers. A study from the Newspaper Audience Databank last year found that 58 per cent of readers depend solely on print newspapers for news and the number is even higher in older readers. Only nine per cent of readers surveyed relied solely on the Internet for news. A considerable majority, 78 per cent, said they read both.
While online revenues are slowly rising at the expense of print revenue, online ads are less effective. Not only do fewer readers get news online, they spend less time reading it — only six minutes a day on average compared to one-half hour for print readers.
An informed electorate is the cornerstone of a democratic society. Citizens can fully participate in government only when they are accurately and completely informed. Free people require paid news.