22 March 2023
As journalism and news have developed from the printing press, outlets are constantly changing in order to compete with one another. Online, this rapid growth can be watched in real time, most evident in the ways that news outlets get their money. Hosting advertisements are obviously the first tools for earning revenue on an online platform. The second? Paywalls.
It’s common to click on a link to an outlet only for a membership plan to pop up, blocking the user from their content. This is called a paywall. Some websites, like the New York Times, offer a fixed number of ‘free’ articles before a subscription is put in place. It’s no coincidence that these links are promoted to show up at the top of search results despite being inaccessible without payment. This is necessary in order to make a larger number of people want to subscribe. And it works.
A cold war has been brewing between journalism outlets and their users.There’s a clear conflict of interests; consumers wanting free journalism and news media wanting money to support their businesses. Not to mention journalists wanting payment for their published work. Paywalls have begun to act as a barrier to free content. The common advice is to download a free ad blocker or VPN as an extension to bypass these features. Yet news websites have also upped the ante. The BBC website, for example, blocks online users using VPNs. This only spurs on the creators of these tools to make these weapons more and more invasive. Websites react similarly, and so the cycle continues.
It’s not just websites, but also apps; popular outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Guardian have created mobile applications to view their news. Getting the latest news is as accessible as desktop notification, which keeps users up to date. Still, this comes at the price of privacy. Free apps like MSNBC, BBC, and NPR use data logged in their mobile apps to track users and sell to advertisers. These apps are still making money off of users even when they aren’t paying a cent.
And it would be difficult enough if most people only paid for a single news source. For someone that wants to get multiple sources of information to stay informed and balanced, they will likely pay more for more subscriptions. The Washington Post starts at $2 dollars a month, then increases to $4 dollars a month after one month. The New York Times starts at $1.50 a week, then becomes $6 dollars a month after four weeks. Time Magazine comes in much cheaper at 99 cents a month, but increases to about $4 dollars a month after three months. And for all of these websites, rates increase for yearly subscriptions. These deals are for a basic subscription, for the inclusion of digital perks, such as podcasts, exclusive stories, extra categories, and home delivery are $10 to $30 dollars more for each of these websites. If $6 dollars a month can add up, $49 dollars a month for multiple services a month can lead to a large deficit.
News Bundles are a common way to pay for multiple journals at once, with the disadvantage of receiving much of the same perspective and same time of news. Amazon offers bundles for magazines like The Atlantic ($50 per month), The New Yorker ($10 per month), and National Geographic ($10 per month). Unfortunately, these bundles are usually based on the same companies. A single news bundle, though promoting various perspectives, can have the same lack of variety that one may find on cable television.
The problem is that journalists simply need to be paid. From the beginning of its history, journalists have been paid for their work writing, editing, compiling and publishing stories, often based on the amount of articles they write. The industry is cut-throat, and can be incredibly difficult to survive in. In that light, many journalists get paid little as it is, and the idea of taking that little from them is unlawful.
This does not contradict the existence of non profit outlets either. For example, PBS has paid features, but it is free to the public, and mostly makes money off of donations and sponsorships. NPR is also a well known and liked free news service. However, these are only the most popular nonprofit news sites, whereas the majority of nonprofits aren’t able to stand beside paid news as competitors. Most nonprofits also lag behind paid journalism because of less funding.
Ultimately, it’s not necessarily bad that journalism is becoming more and more expensive. However, there has to be a point in which the amount of money and information news sites and journals ask from the user become excessive. It is a tricky situation. News has always been a paid service, but in a modern world everyone deserves access to be up to date with the current world, not just those with money. If this is not acknowledged, the current sphere of journalism will drift farther from accessibility, and have a larger gap between its audience and its writers. This is true not just for the future of journalism, but all sorts of online media.