Journalism in ruin: the downward slide to the death of democracy

With one foot already in the coffin, the current climate has only accelerated the inevitable for the journalism industry. (Image source: Pexels)

By Marco Krantis | @KrantisMarco

Journalism is dwindling, news is shifting. Before the coronavirus, journalism jobs and revenue in the industry were plummeting, with COVID-19 only accelerating the inevitable.

During this pandemic, News Corp shut down 36 small papers, the likes of which included the Gold Coast Sun and the Central Telegraph.

The digital age is the main culprit for the dying journalism industry. People can access any news outlet from across the globe with a click of a button. In doing so, cornerstones of the industry, such as the New York Times, can be accessed by anyone in the world, stifling smaller competitors’ reader numbers and profit margins.

A bigger news company, with profound resources and reputation, will attract more readers and attention compared to the local paper.

Subscription vs free

News outlets have adopted different methods in dealing with the revenue difficulties they all currently face. South Australian outlet, The Advertiser, still adopts a newspaper approach whilst having a digital platform as well.

The digital platform for the Advertiser costs subscribers $336 annually, whereas their competitor— the ABC—is a government-funded news organisation, so there is no reliance on subscription payments or ad revenue, resulting in free access.

Potential readers can pay the $336 annually, or pursue other platforms, paying nothing.

27 young adults contributed to a poll by On The Record, asking them if they would pay for news if they could get it for free elsewhere. Out of these 27 people, two said they would pay, with the rest saying they wouldn’t. This equates to only seven per cent willing to do so.

Advertisement shift

Newspaper advertising revenue is on the decline. In 2018, digital advertising spending reached $8.69 billion, making up 54 per cent of the ad market, whereas newspaper ad revenue declined from $1.29 billion in 2017 to $1.13 billion in 2018.

The average Australian spends 1 hour and 39 minutes on social media each day – more time than on news sites, meaning people can be exposed to marketing content longer.

Facebook and Google create profiles and tendencies around what their user’s interests are. They see your interests and recommend videos you make like, and in turn advertisements which will appeal to you.

For example, I follow numerous sports news channels and receive ads from sports betting companies, as it aligns with my interests.

The ads I receive based on my interests. (Image source: Marco Krantis)

This will make me more interested to follow up on the advertisement.

Potential marketing companies deciding where to then place such advertisements will see digital as a better option. Advertisements adhering to interest will encourage the person to spend more.

So, what does this all mean?

It is safe to conclude these subscription-based platforms are, if they aren’t struggling immensely, facing an uphill battle every single day. By some estimates, nearly 8000 media jobs were lost in 2019.

The small news outlets are losing out, in five years many small companies and or even large ones, may be extinct.

Very few outlets will exist, and if they do, they will have a mass following and immense reputation – or be government-funded.

Government funding dangers

As less revenue each year circulates the news industry, governments will have to step in and fund news outlets, if they wish to remain open.

Government funding leaves news outlets open to being a propaganda machine, instead of a reliable news outlet seeking facts, opening the possibility of withholding essential information.

News outlets may not be able to critique or report factual information which can hinder that particular government’s reputation.

The republican rule of China already deploys this in their country. All their news outlets are state-run and funded, meaning they can control what and how things are reported.

China’s news outlets defended new laws aimed at limiting dissent and protest in Hong Kong.

In scornful editorials and social media posts, the Chinese media publicised that the new laws were “necessary to protect the rule of the Communist Party in Beijing”.

The propaganda machine will then hope to influence public opinion on issues, portraying every decision as a positive. As the public are not informed about what is dangerous, right or wrong, they cannot protest or disapprove of such actions.

News outlets can’t protest or deny the state’s wishes, otherwise they will just get other ‘journalists’, or ‘news outlets’ to report it how they like. This can open up dangers in other countries, even where there are democratic values in place.

Wow! I don’t want that; how do we fix it?

The outlook is dire, and the future uncertain. All these minor challenges facing journalism today could see a snowball effect in which investigation, fact-checking, and critiquing information become things of the past.

Many problems arising are a lot harder to alter than others. The solution comes down to the reader.

Yes, it is nice to get news free on your social timelines or free news outlets. If this continues however, what has been discussed above is one step closer to the inevitable. Paying for news and supporting factual reporting is a step in the right direction, ensuring democratic values remain prominent so the public is informed on issues that matter.

It’s up to you now as to what happens…

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