Serious Journalism? Paying For “Nothing” Is Paying For Something
By Romi Mahajan
23 September, 2015
For years I have seen the degradation of journalism world-wide and more broadly, the extent to which the “content” readily available from most sources has become increasingly trivial and below the standard on which any of us should base important decisions. Though there are notable exceptions --usually the product of heroic and valorous attempts by courageous and under paid people—the preponderance of what we have available is little better than pabulum.
A “form factor” that has paid the price dearly is the serious magazine. Tabloids sell well and indeed much of print has become little better than tabloids, but serious magazines have been badly hit by the “changes” in media. Some have adapted, others are struggling and living, while many perished. Worse still is the fate of the investigative element of content-development, the type of follow-the-money, expose-the-powerful journalist and content development that has all but disappeared in the mainstream.
The race to the bottom continues as serious and deep content developers (authors) are fired from their roles and are forced to factory-farm content simply to feed their families. They produce “by the piece” and as prices go down and content serves largely as “clickbait,” they have to produce more. The more a person produces in a day the more the gravity and quality erodes and the race continues until we have clickbait pap as the mode and decent content as the exception.
While money and corporate profit maximization is the root of much of this derogatory turn of events, we as consumers cannot escape our own role in this race to the bottom. Put simply, many of us have decided to demand free content while remaining seemingly oblivious to the fact that indeed we pay with our time, privacy, and often dignity when we avoid paying a few dollars for the intellectual labor of others.
As I discuss this with many people, I am told, more often than one might imagine, that there indeed should be an aversion to “paying for nothing.” While the very people who say these things seem to be the base for Netflix’s growing subscriber base (for which one pays) or the success of the Amazon Kindle (for which one pays), the idea that one should pay for great journalism or great investigative content seems to be absent.
But “paying for nothing” is indeed paying for something- something very dear. While as consumers we should absolutely be willing to pay for content the onus is all the more so if we consider our main incarnation—as citizens.
We all hate “being advertised to” but we invite that fate by being unwilling to part with a few dollars to support the authors and publishers of serious content so that indeed we can avoid being advertised to. This is an abdication, both an economic and a philosophical one. And it’s self-destructive to boot.
So even if you aren’t receiving a physical “good” for your money, try subscribing to publications that seek to get to the bottom of things, from which you can learn and via the learning evaluate the best choices for you, your society, and your ecosystem. And even if you can't read every article in the media to which you subscribe, remember that your dollars help others gain the same insights they need to benefit not only themselves but the world we all share.
Paying for nothing is absolutely paying for something.
Romi Mahajan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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