Loyal SIBlings among us will remember a time when our beloved SIBylle circulated as a print magazine. Do you still remember passing around the sign-up sheet over a few beverages on Monday nights? When, some months later, we opened up those cardboard boxes to reveal a stack of pristine SIBylles? I remember those days fondly, and keep a collection of all the magazines I worked on. Like many newspapers of today, we too are now fully online. We too, have explored different methods for fundraising, from minting our own NFTs, to taking sides in the culture war to get those sweet funds from George Soros. Since we’re legally not allowed to turn a profit, however, we decided instead to dedicate our time to making the most b(i)ased news possible and make it freely accessible to everyone!
We have all been there before. You want to open an interesting online news article about the Parisian manifestations that a friend sent to you, but instead of being able to revel in yet another French revolution against their leader, you are met with the subscription costs of Le Monde. So, instead, you browse The Guardian, and immediately you are hit with a request to support their free and independent news for only 2 euros a month. While you appreciate news of quality, you really just want to read an article and not be bothered by English tikkies, especially after Brexit. Now, instead of reading relatively trustworthy news, you might find a free article about it on The Sun or Daily Mail, but at what cost? It is impossible to escape advertisements for garden furniture, articles about ‘J-lo & Ben Affleck’s chaotic marriage’, and Harry and Meghan’s betrayal of the queen.
This is something that has been happening ever since revenues from print newspapers went down, and online articles became possible. There are many reasons for the decline in paper news articles, most of them being related to a sort of cost-benefit analysis, where both the consumer and the producer wins by investing in online news. Not only financial-related aspects play a role in this, but also our now constantly busy and on-the-go lives make it a lot easier for us to just read the news on our phones. Nevertheless, there are not only benefits to this cheaper and more convenient way of staying informed. In an era dominated by digital media, the disappearance of cheap print newspapers has obvious socio-political consequences. The rise of paid news on the internet is coupled with the abundance of free news articles, who often not only lack proper research and have provoking narratives, but have far-going political influence. Media empires like Rupert Murdoch’s have had influence in the war against Iran, Brexit, and US elections. His papers write right-wing stories, and when they are taken to court for the blatant lies that have been spread, Murdoch just settles with hundreds of millions of dollars to avoid that employees have to testify.
The transition to digital media has led to the rise of paid news on the internet. News outlets have adopted subscription models, paywalls, and premium content to generate revenue. While this shift has offered potential financial sustainability for media organisations, it has also raised concerns about the affordability and accessibility of quality news. It is not hard to imagine who actually has the least access to good and independent journalism. People with lower income have a good reason to save cost on print newspapers and instead decide to go for free online news articles. Unfortunately, free news articles on the internet often get money per click that a consumer on the website makes and so it leads to clickbait articles that use exactly the right words to entice the reader into looking at just one article more.. Consequently, serious and complicated political events are being turned into stories that sound like summaries of Love Island or Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
The pursuit of clickbait and sensationalism has undermined the quality of news, leading to misinformation, polarised viewpoints, and a decline in public trust. Media credibility has been continuously going down, as facts become less important than the amount of clicks on the site. Unresearched articles and tabloid stories have been around for as long as there have been newspapers. In the 1900s people used the term yellow journalism to talk about badly researched newspapers that would use eye-catching headlines for increasing sales. Which sound very familiar, even to people who have only ever read news online. The historian Frank Luther Mott even gave yellow journalism the characteristics of including headlines of minor news in huge print and dramatic sympathy of the underdog against the system. So, this yellow journalism has been around for a while, however currentday fake news said by one person, might be taken at face value and put into an article read by millions of people. News travels fast and can reach many people nowadays, which can snowball into events like the 2021 US Capitol attack.
Not only the quality of the news is something that we now lack, but there is also a loss of sharing the newspaper with your family or even with the person next to you on the train, cutting out the part of the newspaper that you liked best, just to give them to the person you love, finding a discarded paper somewhere and reading something you otherwise would not have, and even using that same old newspaper to create a craft for your younger cousins. Imagine people back in the day taking an hour out of their morning to read the whole paper with their full attention, who even has time for that? Instead, we read two to three-minute-long articles, which lack in-depth information to adhere to our current attention span. Tragically, between 2000 and 2015 our ability to focus on one thing shrank by 25% and is now worse than that of a goldfish. It went from 12 seconds to 8,5 seconds, whereas the attention of a goldfish is 9 seconds. Advertisements popping up, and more flashy titles are not likely to motivate readers to finish what they are reading.
Furthermore, if you live in a small town the local newspaper is likely to report on things that actually matter to your day-to-day life. Maybe a local fundraiser for a new playground, new policies surrounding the speed limit, or even an obituary for people to find out someone they know has passed. The other day my grandma alerted my dad of the fact that his favourite high school history teacher had passed because she had seen it in her local newspaper, something my dad otherwise would have never known. He was able to send the family his condolences and let them know how this teacher had encouraged him to go into politics. However, small newspapers in particular are quickly disappearing, taking all these human aspects of them with them to the grave.
Reliable and accessible news sources are vital to our democracy. More important even than the nostalgic aspects of print newspaper is the journalist side of it. Reporters are assumed to look at official government reports and fact-check numbers, and their article is proofread by multiple people. Without these checks and balances, unreliable information is able to become a trend on social media and have real-life consequences. In 2016 there was a shooting in an American pizza shop filled with families because a man believed Hillary Clinton was participating in pedophilic activities in the basement. This belief was based on fake news going around. When online newspapers reported in 2017 that Ethereum’s founder had died, its market value dropped by $4 billion, even though it was not even true. The internet goes wild about assassinations, moon landings, and vaccines.
Alarmingly, all this fake news has another side. Right-wing supporters are increasingly sending death or rape threats to journalists and even physically attacking them. In the US, between 2017 and 2021 attacks on journalists grew from 40 to 500. According to Freedom House, media freedom has been deteriorating over the past couple of years. Not only in authoritarian countries do leaders try to silence critique of their leadership. European and American populist leaders have incentivised hate against journalists. By publicly opposing the release of public information, public rhetoric against journalists, and open critique during press events.
A couple of unreliable free news sites might seem like a small problem compared to this. Nevertheless, people should be as well-informed as possible to vote authentically, have public discourse, or even just form their opinions. Whether this is stopped by badly written free pieces, news with a deliberate agenda, or hate against journalists, it harms society as a whole. Print newspapers leave space for sharing the love for journalism and reading more positive and smaller-scale news about your community. While yellow journalism might be a thing in both paper and online news, the consequences of constantly being informed of everything everywhere are only a thing of our time. So, perhaps once in a while we should put our phones away, pick up the local newspaper and slowly enjoy it.
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