Like a growing segment of the population, I get my news from the Internet, either through social media or online news sites. I prefer these online editions because they get the news out faster, update more frequently, and can contextualize the information through hyperlinks. Given the prevalence of the Internet and the myriad problems that can go wrong with print media, I honestly see no point in having print media. It just seems like extra overhead.
As a result, print media is dying, prompting newspapers and magazines to lay off staff, scale back on editions, print more specialized issues, charge higher subscription fees, or simply shut down. The methods that people use to report the news are also changing with journalists resorting to sponsored journalism, more sensationalized stories, “click bait” headlines, and an increase in advertisements.
All of the above deserves criticism, but what really bothers me is the advertisements. My local newspaper is The Lexington Herald-Leader, and to my knowledge it’s the main source of written news in the area. However, their website is a mess. Before you can even look at editorial cartoons, you have to watch a commercial. On average, you get two pop-ups per page plus however many stationary ads. Opening a page takes forever and considerably slows down your computer. These ads also make it more likely that companies can skim or outright steal your information and assholes can hide viruses in the code.
Even worse than that is the fact that they interfere with the spread of information. For every ad, there is someone who had to court these companies, set up the ads, and monitor them. For every ad, there’s slightly less time and space spent on actual news. And for every ad, there is push from the paper for people to buy more or for news to be geared towards what these companies want. It’s a problem.
Unfortunately, the solution requires money and commitment from citizens. Either we subscribe to the news or our cities and counties raise our taxes to pay for it. Personally, I would prefer a small tax. It would ensure that we’re all paying a fairly equal amount, that the money is paid consistently, and that no one individual can control the news outlet. And, given that other public services like libraries are paid through small taxes (In my city, it’s something like $0.17 out of every $1000 of property.), it wouldn’t be a radical inclusion.
Best of all, it would keep news objective and stable and allow news outlets to focus on stories and information rather than ratings or hits. It would allow them to focus their attention not on attracting advertisers but attracting readers, and they could spend surplus on research and development, graphic design, outreach, and scholarships. Of course, they could still accept individual donations, but if they have a steady, constant source of income, it would prevent them from leaning any particular way, and that is necessary. News outlets should be “free” to the public, and they should be as unbiased as possible – they are how we get our information, how we form our opinions, and how we become active citizens. How can we possibly do that when we’re too exasperated with closing ads to really read the articles?