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Media Diet

The so-called Media Diet includes 2.5 hours a day of reading/viewing the news. (Photo credit: Adam Crowe)

Here’s one of those stories that ranks high on the “duh!” factor, at least in my opinion.

Those of us addicted to our computers and smart phones have been there before. We come across an intriguing story slug or headline tagged in that familiar shade of “click-me” blue. And so, we click.

And then the frustration mounts!

“I have to pay for this?” you ask yourself. “No way!”

And so you move on.

Apparently some journalism instructors have taken to asking their students if they would pay a nominal amount of money for access to Facebook. While some agree that a buck a month might be acceptable, none of the students were willing to pay any amount of money for access to news media sites. I’m the same way. The quickest way to send me in another direction is to demand I pay to read an online newspaper.

But why? After all, if I want the print version of a newspaper I know full well that I’m going to have to pay something. Or maybe it’s that I’m not willing to pay at all for any version of the news.

Who pays for what?

There’s a grand irony as I see it, and it’s contained in the quote attributed to a newspaper publisher in the story linked to above. Apparently the newspaper publisher incredulously believes that he doesn’t need readers, certainly not the college-educated, upwardly-mobile reader with a disposable income. Pssst! Don’t tell that to his advertisers or shareholders!

Even more telling is how this attitude will become painfully apparent to these budding journalists when they discover that their paychecks don’t have the disposable income sufficient to cover the cost of the online subscriptions they already refuse to pay, especially once they learn the reality of economics and discover that the rent is due before they eat! The sad fact throughout this 20-year long discussion within media circles regarding the shift towards electronic publishing is that the very people tasked with writing the stories that are supposed to engage and attract readers have seen their pay increase less, on a percentage basis, than has the federal minimum wage, during this same period of time.

Yet this arrogance seems to be popular with publishers and even some editors. Oh, they won’t say that, but it’s apparent in the “just get it out the door” attitude of newspaper publishing. Who cares what’s in the newspaper, as long as the sales staff is relatively successful?

Content… Content… Content

The problem with this attitude is the reader (you know, those people who advertisers hope see their printed sales pitch in the morning newspaper) are leaving in droves, taking with them the advertisers that pay the bills. While to a certain extent it seems that the newfound lack of income must be made up somewhere, publishers seem dumfounded at the unwillingness of readers to subsidize what for more than a century has been subsidized by the advertiser. Lost in this incredulity is the notion that the free market will simply not support something that has no intrinsic value.

As a reader and a consumer (and a J-school grad), I’ve long-since lost the willingness to pay for information that I can find for free in so many places. Moreover, I refuse to pay subscription rates for information, even that information that I can’t seem to find elsewhere, simply because I have determined that it ultimately has no value to my life. I’ve even stopped watching television news programs in part because I don’t trust them to provide me with useful, and in many cases, truthful information.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a service or a tangible product, consumers want to feel as if they’re getting something of value when they elect to exchange their hard-earned money for something, whether it be a piece of electronic gadgetry, a new car, or a form of media.

Amazing as it is, people are still willing to part with their income. One need look no farther than Apple, Inc. to see a shining example of how one company has found a way to create value and extract large sums of money from consumers. Newspaper publishers could do well to learn this if they expect to revive their dying publications.