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Time For Reader-Supported Journalism

With traditional news organizations all over the country shutting down or dramatically cutting their resources and coverage, one is forced to consider the future of journalism in America.

Many aspiring journalists look out onto a bleak landscape and turn away, while others already inside the system don’t see much of a future and are looking to jump ship the minute they get an offer. That offer that will usually come from a public relations firm trying to capitalize on the soon-to-be former journalist’s media connections to promote their clients’ brands and interests. Currently, public relations flacks outnumber journalists in the US by almost 5 to 1.

The attempt to simply shift the old model used by newspapers onto the internet has been a bust. As has the attempt to use that model to fund new purely digital journalistic ventures – many of which have already crashed and burned.

The model that has survived online so far is that of a hybrid – a digital entertainment company that has a news division or occasionally adds news content to its sites and apps. But that model is also in trouble because although online and mobile advertising is increasing relative to TV, the actual rates companies can get for showing those ads is declining. That downward pressure makes funding intensive reporting and research through advertising even more difficult than it was previously.

The response to declining rates by the hybrids and others is to churn out a bunch of news-ish content and use a deceptive practice known as native advertising. The churn strategy appears to have diminishing returns both for the risk of dissipating credibility and the expanded use of ad-blockers making it pointless. Native advertising can also harm credibility (and thus audience retention) as the practice often involves tricking readers into reading an ad when they think they are reading a news story. Readers eventually catch on and, once fooled, are less likely to come back. Not to mention that the next generation of ad-blockers will target native advertising as well.

The only true path to independence is the return of reader-supported journalism. When readers are the ones funding journalism, they, not advertisers or other interests, are the ones journalists can really serve.

I know, I know. You don’t want to pay. You want someone to figure out some way for you to get the information you want and make someone else pay for it. Guess what? That’s what has been happening the last ten or so years. That’s how we got here.

We hoped Google would figure out how to make this all work, instead, they screwed everyone as is a corporation’s wont. As Facebook will soon do as well. There is only so much profit to be made in the attention economy and the shareholders demand growth. Peter is robbing Paul of all that he has, the game will soon be over.

So, if you want to see the kind of journalism you like, you are going to have to get used to paying something (anything?) for it. It sucks, and now a word from our sponsors.

Dan Wright

Dan Wright

Daniel Wright is a longtime blogger and currently writes for Shadowproof. He lives in New Jersey, by choice.