Uncertain who will continue to pay for journalism

We face an impending crisis which may not cause as much concern as child poverty and lack of housing, but it may be an even greater issue for the future of democracy. In the digital world it may also be every bit as difficult a problem to solve.


Newspaper readership is dropping fast, traditional media are being supplanted by online streaming and news is available on your mobile phone at the touch of the screen. But the people who report the news – the journalists – are becoming redundant like flies, because their traditional employer can no longer afford to pay them.


There are still some apparently unaffected refuges, such as radio stations and specialist magazines or newspapers, but there is a strong probability these will begin to feel the cold winds of digital competition sooner or later. It may be that their financial model has already started the adjustment process with journalists having to work flexibly and under a different remuneration structure.


But if, as appears inevitable, the number of journalists continues to decline, the elephant in the room is the question “Who will report the news?” The public may think it doesn’t matter, because surely there will be a way to find news with all these digital media options.


Realistically anybody who values democracy should pray that there will always be objective observers willing to expose themselves to dangerous situations, so they can report accurately to the world. The other side of this particular coin is that people should be willing to pay for their news. This may be a forlorn hope in a world in which news is free, as long as you have wifi.


It is possible the large non government sponsored media organisations, like Murdoch and CNN, will find a way to earn sufficient revenue from their publications and channels, but it’s unlikely to be as much as the traditional price per copy or subscription model. Translating page views into advertising revenue that matches income from hard copy printed newspapers and TV channels has proved elusive.


Government sponsored non-commercial TV and radio, like BBC and Radio New Zealand, are an endangered species with governments both unhappy with criticism and unwilling to increase their annual operating budgets. Mainstream TV channels, whether publicly or privately owned, are finding it increasingly hard to be sustainable.


It is hard to imagine a world without broadcast media like the BBC, RNZ, TV 1 and 3, and printed newspapers, all of which contain independent news reportage. But there is a big risk the apparently unstoppable trend towards individual narrow casting will see the death of actual news as opposed to rumour and hearsay.


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