Unless you’re among the super young, you are a member of one of the last generations to experience life without the internet. That’s not nothing. The web hasn’t just changed the way you find your next relationship and cheat at table quizzes. It’s had a scorched earth effect to how we consume our media. Everything is constantly changing, and creators are scrambling to adjust in this brave new world.
Look at music. Napster and its successors caused album sales to more than half between 2000 and 2009. MP3 has quickly made way for audio streaming. The digitalisation of the industry has caused its biggest period of upheaval since songs first began being etched into vinyl records’ spiral grooves.
Similarly, print publications are fading like they’re Marty McFly in a family photograph. You’ve seen the newsstands receding. Maybe you’ve stopped picking up that paper, content to flick through the headlines on your phone instead. What’s so hazardous about the situation is that the falling value of print advertisement money and reduction in coins over the counter are not being recouped through digital means. In the US, the industry’s revenue has fallen by more than a third since 2005, according to Bloomberg.
A good number of clicks help websites generate ad revenue. So in a world where traffic needs to be as heavy as possible, quantity over quality has often become the ethos. The easiest way to pull in the views is to post as frequently as possible. With this model, repackaging content from other places is the most time efficient tactic. Gifs, viral images, Tweets that react to things – it all comes foil packed for journalists and editors. Copy and paste and click publish. You’ve created some #content.
[pullquote]You can help close the gap by turning off that damaging ad blocker, signing up to a digital membership to your favourite website, or picking up a newspaper, even if it’s just at the weekend.[/pullquote]That’s not to drag posts that capture the weirdness of the net, or criticise the desperate publications trying to stay afloat. Problem is, with this model the drawn-out of process of investigative journalism or lengthy analysis is suffering. We recently saw the value of fearless boots-on-the-ground reporting when the Irish edition of The Times uncovered the horrible misinformation being provided by a crisis pregnancy agency. Eventually, it’s going to have to sink in that we need to pay for this stuff.
Few would argue about the necessity of such journalism, but we’ve been programmed to expect it for free. Readers don’t think about it too much, vaguely accepting that their clicks offer outlets enough compensation. But the numbers aren’t stacking up.
In the UK, The Times itself has been criticized for their approach. A lot of newspapers have soft paywalls, but these are walls so steep they’re Trumpian. There’s no entry for those who don’t shell out for full access. You could argue The Times’s influence has dwindled because of it. This is a paper that’s been a British institution since the 18th century. But you don’t see their articles making the Twitter rounds.
While The Times’s rival The Guardian (which offers some extras through a digital subscription pack but has yet to assemble any kind of paywall) boasts 155 million monthly browsers, its publisher, Guardian Media Group, recently revealed the publication suffered annual losses of £68.7million. In total, the company lost £173million.
The Times and Sunday Times, meanwhile, now have 413,600 print and digital subscribers across and declared a pre-tax profit of £10.9million in its last financial results, having made annual losses of more than £70million before to the building of its big, bright paywall. It’s possible that all newspapers may someday decide that the harshest restrictions are the only way to survive.
How cheaply we regard information was laid bare in the Dublin Inquirer’s recent investigation into TheLiberal.ie. Leo Sherlock’s site has, on a number of occasions, been accused of copy and pasting the work of journalists from other places, further cheapening the hours they put in. When veteran Irish Examiner editor Tim Vaughan last month announced he was leaving the paper last month to join internal communications software company Newsweaver, it felt indicative of the migration of workers currently leaving an industry with an uncertain future.
Relying on people to pay for this information is a tricky proposition. Bottled water should be the blueprint. People are still willing to part with a couple of euro for something they could get from a tap. Creating a system that’s appealing enough to encourage people to pay up – similar to how Spotify etc has reduced illegal MP3 downloads – is on the publications themselves.
In the meantime, you can help close the gap by turning off that damaging ad blocker, signing up to a digital membership to your favourite website, or picking up a newspaper, even if it’s just at the weekend. When the courts in this country start operating without journalists in attendance, or politicians are allowed to operate without fear of being held accountable for they’re action, it’s going to cost us so much more.