Another newspaper has died in Detroit. Like so many others before it, The Michigan Citizen succumbed to the uncompromising economics of modern news, where corporations won’t pay for unflattering content and readers don’t pay for any. As print media wanes, electronic media flourishes. This tradeoff may appear to be more democratic – anyone can contribute to the internet- but print media, while it has fewer sources, may actually be more likely to represent the people. The reason is that when readers don’t pay for content, corporations do, and the internet can be a surprisingly narrow place to find your news.
Nothing is truly unbiased- whoever pays for the content is who the content will serve, but journalism from the perspective of the populace rather than the powers-that-be is inherently more balanced because it represents a greater proportion of people. Old-fashioned print media was able to represent the perspective of the people because society accepted the need to pay for a newspaper or magazine in order to stay abreast of the issues of the day.
While more people have the ability to contribute to “the internet” than to a newspaper, the proportion of news and opinions from sponsored sources is as high as ever. Since most web content is subsidized by ad sales rather than individual readers, the consumption of news on the internet is far narrower than most people realize*.
True journalism requires editors and budgets and autonomy from governmental and corporate interests. It requires a platform from which to speak and, though there are notable exceptions, that typically requires money. E-news outlets will freely admit it- they are “whores for clicks” with the result that articles get shorter and less substantive.
Internet media is generally free to the reader but not free to produce, so it is more likely to represent the the inherently narrow perspective of its beneficiary. With the ability to trace each click to each link, web content can be honed down to the most pure form of revenue-generating material.
If you pay for a paper or a magazine, you will be incentivized to glean from it the value that you invested. You are more likely to read an article in full and to go beyond the headline. You will have the opportunity, in a moment of boredom-induced curiosity, to read an article you might otherwise overlook. You will not bail on the article in favor of your Facebook newsfeed the instant it gets too sad or heavy or technical. You will not have the option to skip to the end to add your comments to the growing fray of hot-headed idiocy attaching itself to the end of the article like a chain of hyenas attacking the scraps of what might’ve been a meaty bone. Ultimately, you might learn something.
When it comes to internet content, we get what we pay for. It’s no coincidence that the most recent newspaper to fail was specifically directed to be a voice of the city’s people, not of its corporations. And for this reason, I lament the loss of The Michigan Citizen.
*How many people will read this?