You know the scene – you’re trying to read an article online and all of a sudden a pop-up screen comes up telling you to subscribe to view more content. If you’re like most people, you decide it’s not worth it and move on to other things. Who really pays for news online? Why should we? Dan Lett, senior political correspondent for The Winnipeg Free Press, spoke to my media relations class on a very interesting concept; media literacy. I had considered myself to be a responsible and voracious consumer of news. Listening to Dan speak, I learned that I have so much further to go.
Media literacy is “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms, from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry…for citizens of a democracy.” (Center for Media Literacy, 2011). There are two parts to literacy: paying for your content and knowing where your content comes from.
According to Dan, there is an “erroneous assumption that people are uninterested in the traditional news” because they don’t buy newspapers. People are simply getting their news from different resources. We now have content factories who sell to other online publications, and the news is simply being recycled. If you look on any news aggregator, you will see that the majority of news stories come from one or two sources. What’s more troubling is that most of us don’t realize that some “news sites” are in fact just compilations of other stories – The Huffington Post Canada is a perfect example of a site that simply recycles other content or links you directly to other news sites.
There is a trend that has been going on for 20 years now; fewer stories are being covered because there simply isn’t the time or money to investigate them. There has been 70 per cent less stories written now than in 1991 (PEW Research Center, 2013). And you don’t have to look far to see why this is the case. There is a very real connection between the financial strains of news media and quality reporting; you simply can’t maintain quantity or quality when you have less to work with. The American Society of News Editors annual newsroom census found in 2013 that the newspaper industry alone shed 28 per cent of its employees since 2001; we can reasonably infer that this trend continues in Canada (PEW Research Center, 2013).
As cuts in long-standing, traditional organizations have forced editors to make harder choices about coverage priorities, we should ask ourselves to what extent is the digital field moving to fill the void? I will readily admit that I get a lot of my information from social media sites such as Facebook & Twitter, however it is generally through links to online newspaper websites for papers like The Globe & Mail or The Winnipeg Free Press. There are many people out there who get all of their news from sites that are not constrained by journalistic integrity. Being media literate is being aware of where your content comes from.
Some people feel that we shouldn’t have to pay for our news; information should be free. This is especially evident of the younger generation who has grown up having immediate access to news on the Internet. What this fails to take into account is that there is a cost to producing that news; reporters have to be paid, papers have to be printed, and technology costs money. Why truly bears the consequences when society doesn’t have a vibrant and thoughtful press? We all do – we are less informed because of it.
To be considered truly media literate, do the following two things:
- Realize where your content comes from
- Pay for your content
This is why I will start purchasing my news content from now on.