The short To-Do item: Subscribe (as in pay money every month) to reputable news sources. Here’s a list. Pick two and pay them:
- New York Times
- Washington Post
- Your local public radio station
- The Guardian
- The Atlantic
- The Economist
Also, turn off AdBlock for the reputable websites that don’t offer a subscription service.
The long explanation of why this is so important: Much ink has been spilled about the issue of fake news. And I have no idea how to stop ignorant people from believing lies. But I can’t control what people do. Only what I can do.
And I can pay for my news.
The real news has a lot of blame to bear for this monstrosity, too. They covered the email “scandal” like it was a real thing. They reported Trump in the beginning, when he was a joke. Etc. etc. But why did they do this? Well, as it turns out, that’s our fault.
They wrote bad news because that’s what brought in the page views. And page views put tacos on the table.
Bear with me as I go through a little of the history and structure of news. I’m an ex journo in print journalism, so I am going to speak about that. But it’s not that different on the TV side — just substitute the phrase “cable news” for “internet”.
It used to be, back in the day, that every adult had a subscription to at least one reputable news paper. And sure, they still paid for the news with advertisers, but the advertisers knew they had a floor of viewers because of the subscription. So, if the Podunk Times could say they had a base of 20,000 subscribers, they could set advertising rates accordingly.
But then the internet happened. People started reading things online. And papers could TRACK it. So suddenly, instead of a wide and assumed base of 20,000 readers seeing your ad for Podunk Physical Therapy, you could tell that really, only 243 had seen it. And not one of those people had clicked through to the actual website.
They tried so hard. They made the ads bigger, flashier. The ads started scrolling over the page. They contained games. They blurred the line between content and ads (to a scary degree).
And we all just installed AdBlock.
So now, they aren’t getting any ad revenue except from people who don’t know how to install AdBlock. And they can track exactly what those people are reading. So they start writing more stories that get more eyeballs, because that’s where the money is. At news aggregators and clickbait sites, sometimes those people are literally paid per reader.
I know when I worked at the website of one of the most old-fashioned newspapers in the country, we on the digital side lived and died by our eyeball numbers. If I hadn’t met my target, I would gin up more page views with photo galleries. Carnivale in Rio, with the mostly naked dancers, got way more page views than a sedate tour of the villages of Ireland, let me tell you. So I started looking for racier content because my raise was entirely dependent upon the number of page views I got.
If your end-of-the-week paycheck is dependent upon page views and you notice that the old people who don’t know how to install AdBlock keep reading about Trump… well, you’re gonna write about Trump. (Or Hillary’s email “scandal” or whatever.)
Those are the incentives in place and they’ve warped the news that we see.
We can fix this by paying for our news. Then they have a revenue stream that’s constant, regardless of the page views. That means they can write decent journalism without pandering to the whims of a fickle public. The above list is not definitive by any means. Suggest your preferences in the comments.