By now most people understand that there’s a serious problem with the news, but I’m not sure how many know how fundamental it is.
Here’s the underlying issue:
- The companies that make the news we consume are for-profit businesses.
- These companies aren’t just pressured to increase profits, but will go out of business if they don’t constantly adapt to their competition.
- The best way to make money for a news site is to sell ads.
- Outrage is one of the most powerful methods of getting someone to engage with a story, so that is what we’re seeing more of.
- This has effectively destroyed traditional journalism, since companies producing news have no choice but to create stories that will get more attention and ad views.
It’s not a reporter problem, or a media company problem—it’s an incentive problem.
The business model for modern media companies is advertisement, and that business model conflicts directly with the public interest of informing people through balanced coverage.
Advertisements are the center of the media universe because they pay the bills, so if you’re a reporter or an editor, you must do whatever you can to get people to click links. There is no amount of complaint or criticism or nostalgia that will fix this. It’s the business model.
But there’s a solution. We must transition to a world where media companies receive their livelihood from their customers instead of sponsors. We must adopt the subscription model.
I also converted to a subscription model for this site, which wasn’t easy since I could easily make several thousand a month from sponsorships.
Once a company is getting paid from their customers instead of sponsors, they’re free to provide the value that their customers actually want and need. And they’ll no longer have to worry about whether a sponsor will dislike their content.
Here are a few of the sources I subscribe to:
- The New York Times Subscribe
- The Economist Subscribe
- The Wall Street Journal Subscribe
- The New Yorker Subscribe
- Wired Subscribe
- Sam Harris’ Waking Up Podcast Subscribe
- Ben Thompson’s Stratechery Subscribe
That seems like a lot (and I might actually be missing a couple) but I am thrilled to do it.
This is how you fight back. You fight back by directly supporting your favorite sources. Free them. Help them. Liberate them from the bondage of advertising dependency.
So many of the worldwide problems we face are too massive for individuals to make a dent. Global warming is a major problem, and recycling at your house is little more than a spiritual win. Same with giving to a major charity. You know it does good, but it feels like thimbling the ocean.
Not so with this.
This type of direct digital support is so new, and so powerful, that small numbers make a difference.
Don’t sit this one out. Don’t decry the downfall of journalism from the safety of your computer. Do something.
Bring your favorite sources to mind and go sign up to at least one of them.
Be part of the solution.
- If you can’t support your favorite sources for financial reasons, that’s fine. Just vow to do so as soon as you can.
- Since you asked, you can support my work here. Subscribe