We live in a frenzy of information, bombarded with the whos, hows, and whats of every Tom, Dick and Harry. Some of the information is superfluous and irritating. However, there are a lot of other facts and formalities that serve to inform, educate, and even inspire an entire society of people. We depend on this information on a daily basis; and as of right now, it’s almost completely free.
Where does all of this free information come from? Simply put: the Internet. Some of it originates from the fingertips of Twitterholics who fit tidbits of information into 140 characters. Some of it develops in greater detail on one of the 800-million-some blogs floating on the net. Some of it is even exposed on the websites of news organizations who give the world a free peep show of information they would charge for in another medium.
With so much information buzzing around like swarm of blabbering bumblebees, another problem has arisen: how much of it can we actually trust? This topic is frequently discussed in news debates, and interestingly enough, comes up often when the notion of paying for online news is brought up. People respond, “Well I would pay for the news if I trusted it.”
To me, this is a completely counterproductive statement. After all, the facts don’t find themselves. How can we expect journalists to produce robust news at robot speed for a salary that decreases everyday and is almost completely dependent on minimal funding from advertisers? The reality is, we can’t.
The Internet created a get-everything-for-free-with-the-click-of-a-button standard that is definitely convenient, applauded by the masses, and also unsustainable—at least in terms of the news industry. The number of people who subscribe to the newspaper is increasingly low. Why would they subscribe? It’s all easily accessible online from the comfort of their homes or on their BlackBerrys while commuting to work.
It’s even sent via email with personalized daily and weekly news feeds. Broadcast news is also vulnerable to the Internet dilemma—the best news clips hit YouTube faster than the words came out of the reporter’s mouth. Any news topic can be spit into a search engine like Google, instantly found, and organized by relativity. It’s just that easy.
The time has come for us all to start making a sound investment in the information we depend on. The question is, what is the tangible value of this information? The Internet completely turned the economic platform of the news industry upside-down, and while this issue has been previously ignored, it’s time to address it.
So, how much are we willing to pay for news? Will we pay per story? Per topic? Will we subscribe to just local news or just politics or sports? Will we care enough to pay for the sensationalized crap that sneaks its way in? This question of the “tangible value” of news is one that we have not had to ask ourselves in a long time. As a journalist, I know my response.
Much like how I pay my 99 cents per song I download from iTunes, I would gladly pay per article that interests me. I would also pay for a subscription to my favorite news websites.
Unfortunately, this news-for-free online quandary does not end with simply asking for a few more nickels and dimes. What it also comes down to is regulating what information gets copied and regurgitated onto other portals of the web. A problem that no industry affected economically by the Internet has seemed to figure out, and one that I certainly wish I had the answer to.