Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Remember - You Get What You Pay For!

I am not, by nature, a pessimistic person.  In fact, I tend to be quite adroit at compartmentalizing the bad things in my life and leaving them in a dark hole to be ignored for as long as possible, so I can focus on lighter fare, such as vacation planning or watching reality TV.   When I'm busy working at one of my freelance news jobs, it's easier to ignore the fact that I have no long term career prospects. But when I'm not working, it's easier to dwell on the fact that news reports point to a rather dismal future, at least in the short term. 

Two articles of note in today's news are conspiring to open up my "bad things" compartment.  First, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke is giving a pretty glum assessment of where the nation's employment picture is heading.  Bernanke says "the best thing we can say about the labor market right now is that it may be getting worse more slowly."

And from that broad assessment, we go to another article that points specifically to my profession, journalism.  A new study finds that fewer than half of Americans say they would be willing to pay for news online, and that those who would pay - would only cough up three dollars a month for it.

In essence, Americans believe they have a God-given right to free access to news - and really, who can blame them?  The cost of news coverage has been borne by advertisers for hundreds of years, and consumers have never had to worry about that burden.

But because of the internet, ad dollars have been splintered into tiny pieces, and the news business model is irrevocably broken.  The degradation of the news business is well underway.  We've all heard about the sorry state of newspapers.  Just this past week, the Washington Times began to brace for a new round of cuts, and the Washington Blade - DC's voice in the gay community - shut its doors after 40 years in business.  

And then there's broadcast news.  Many -  if not most - local TV news operations have made significant cutbacks in recent years.  Some stations have discontinued weekend newscasts altogether.  More radio stations are dumping their news operations every day, and many of the newsrooms still operating are doing so with much fewer resources. 

With less competition, those news operations that are still in business are suffering from a lack of competition, leading to a new level of mediocrity in reporting that is being accepted as an industry standard.

And this is not just happening at a local level.  Network broadcast operations are making severe cuts as well, finding ways to sound and look healthy in hopes that the consumer won't take notice.

The sad thing is that most consumers WON'T notice - at least for awhile.  News on the internet seems to be thriving.  The problem is that most of that internet news is taken from the very same traditional media newsrooms that are in danger of collapsing. 

You don't want to pay for your news?  Just remember this truism, because eventually it will play out.  You get what you pay for.

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