The Real Cost of News


Saam Hasan


Once upon a time, a major source of morning excitement was opening the front door, looking down on the ground, and scooping up a bundle of printed pages that had been left there by an ever diligent delivery man. Then, it was off to the most comfortable chair or sofa, settled in with the day’s first cup of tea, and diving straight into the most sensational happenings of the last twenty-four hours.

Fast forward to now, and those rituals are all but a thing of the past. And in all due fairness, there are some justified reasons. There is no need for all the hassle with physical newspapers when literally every news portal in the world is available at your fingertips’, courtesy of smart devices. The reliance on online news content is also far more cost effective. You get to access almost every media outlet there without having to pay for them individually.

However, while we have been able to gain more with less pay in terms of the quantity of news we can consume, this has unfortunately been compensated for with a correlated loss in validity and legitimacy of the content. Where we have gained in more content for less cost, we have lost in how much we can actually trust said content.

Perhaps, one of the most overused terms on the internet today is clickbait. In other words, it is when the authors of an article intentionally construct a headline in such a way that it attracts the most viewers, even if it doesn’t accurately describe what is inside the article. This, of course, leads to all manners of sensationalisation of news content, with most outlets desperate to generate more clicks (i.e. likes, shares, comments, etc.) than their competitors.

Now, normally, this would be the point where the narrative veers into a vilification of the capitalistic business model employed by papers and TV channels in the modern era. However, if one were to look more closely into the situation, they would realise that perhaps, it is not the media outlets who are to blame. In fact, the lion’s share of the blame may even reside with us, the consumers.

Despite the moral burdens they are expected to carry, media outlets, be they newspapers, news channels, online portals, or anything else, are still for-profit businesses. And this statement is not aimed at justifying them abusing their duties, rather it is an explanation of what necessitates such practices. In order for a news outlet to survive and break even, it has to be able to sell its content. 

Unfortunately, as was mentioned at the very beginning, news isn’t just a product we want to pay for anymore. We are happy to consume our news content on social media platforms and websites without paying any dedicated fee to each individual source. True, lots of outlets have paid subscription options, but most numbers suggest that as a source of revenue, it doesn’t come close to replacing the amounts generated in previous eras from paper sales and paper ads. 

As a result, news outlets have had to shift their business model towards something that is better equipped at monetising the current market. Most of these outlets now generate the bulk of their revenue from ads on their websites and other benefits from the social media platforms on which they are active — all of that is dependent on the number of people clicking on their content. 

When all is said and done, as summed up perfectly by John Oliver during his piece on the news medium, we ourselves drove news outlets into creating this clickbait dominated world.

 


Whether it’s pop culture, fiction, or politics, writing is Saam’s ultimate passion and reprieve.

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