Why does media suck? TL:DR: It’s partially our fault.
In our ever more connected world, we have access to an ever-increasing number of news sources on a daily basis, ranging from text to video, and we can almost literally get it anywhere at any time, thanks to smart devices.
But why does it suck?
The internet democratized information, and the sharing thereof. So now we can all know what is going on in the world. Additionally, as our devices morph from being just ‘smart’ to boffins, we can now all create richer content with the use of better audio and video recordings. Now everyone can create content and share it with the world in literal seconds. That’s amazing, right?
Well, yes..and no.
The riots that plague the USA throughout 2016 would never have been shared with the world in their true, raw nature if it hadn’t been for citizens recording and sharing videos on their smartphones. Only 2nd or 3rd hand evidence would have been made available, and no doubt if a court was ever involved somewhere, it would be written off as circumstantial. Having this primary evidence has changed the way we see the world.
However, the downside comes in where we now have just a wall of noise. Since everyone is now free to cheaply create content on the internet, how does one get their content to shine brighter than everyone else? By making the headlines seem more shocking or obscene, or asking leading questions that are psychologically proven to peak our interest so that we further investigate.
So what do we end up with? Junk. Lots and lots of junk.
So why are we the problem? Well, there are many ways this article could go, but I’m going to take it in one specific direction. We as consumers expect it to be for free.
So what is the current (and failing) revenue model for news media?
Historically all media income has come from a combination of ad support, and cost to the consumer. Think of when you paid to receive CNN from your TV provider or paid a nominal fee for your newspaper. You received the content and in amongst it was a number of ads. When everything went web-based, the banner ads and pop-ups replaced them, and everyone universally agrees these are highly annoying. So what did we do?
We installed ad-blockers.
Ah, the ad-blocker. The greatest invention of the 20-teens. No need to watch those pesky ads at the beginning of YouTube videos, or need to try and find those impossible to see ‘X’ cancellation buttons. Life has since been amazing.
Now ask yourself this: if no ads are being shown, how could content creators receive an income?
The answer? They’re not.
We want the hard work of journalists, but we’re just not willing to pay for it. Even worse is that we are totally OK with shaming a poor article, even though we didn’t pay to read it. How can we demand higher quality without a higher cost to ourselves? Such quality journalism or video production takes time, effort, and skill, and that deserves a reward. I’m sure just about everyone would cry foul if they were expected to work for free, so why should it be any different online?
People will often point to the famous YouTubers who have multiple millions of followers, and some of those are making huge 6 or 7 figure incomes, but this is a ridiculously small minority. Even then, those men and women have likely invested huge sums of money, and countless hours to that craft and justly deserve their rewards. But what about the aspiring star? How should they rise to the top without support?
There are services that exist to help with this, like Patreon, where one can donate funds to the creator of their choice in order to fund the production of their favourite content. This really is a great step in the right direction to assist the up and comings, but this requires us to actively support them. But how many of us are willing to do this.
I have posted this question to some ‘normal’ non-techy folk to see their responses, and for the majority, they don’t see a need to pay for things, but they believe that in some way they are being monetized somehow, or that the ads on websites and YouTube pay far more than what they do to the creator. But that really isn’t happening, or at least not to the degree they believe it is. The real problem here is that eventually, good journalism will disappear. As it is now the traditional big media giants are already faltering in the quality of their news. Beyond all the political ongoings of Left vs Right, pretty much every media house tries to outshine each other with big headlines that generally are filled more with hot air than substance. Take Rachel Maddow of MSNBC when she had a ‘massive scoop’ on Donald Trump’s tax returns, which in her paraphrased words, looked like any other tax return. Hardly anyone noticed, or bothered to see that this info was covered by another news agency almost a year prior. Let alone that her hype was for naught. All it got her was a lot of mockery for competing agencies, and a lot of ridiculously useless praise from other shows based on her same network.
Do you see the problem?
So what is my point? If we want journalism that is worth reading, particularly online, we need to support these new creators. They need our financial support if we expect to receive quality reporting filled with integrity. If we leave things as they are currently, all our news will continue to be filtered through the big 6 media juggernauts that basically own every major news network, channel, magazine and theme park, and that is not going to be good for anyone. Their sheer size and reach will lead them to eventually squash the little guy, and we will be stuck with the crap they are currently making without alternatives.
I encourage you, and myself for that matter, to think about supporting those whose content you frequently consume. We don’t want to work for peanuts, so why should they?