News on Internet needs plan

ReAnne Utemark

Some have accused me of a lot of things – some true, some not so true. One of the predominant accusations I get is being a “Luddite” when it comes to news on the Internet. As if, somehow, I wanted newspapers to be left behind when everything, including doctors and psychologists, is on the Internet. This is simply untrue.

The BBC and the New York Times are available to me like never before. Students of foreign languages can read the news in the language they are trying to master and people can experience media from other areas of the world to learn more than they ever could on CNN or Fox News. There are so many wonderful aspects to news media moving toward the Internet.

But the Internet is quite the “sticky wicket.”

While the World Wide Web has, indeed, opened up billions of doors to new information and new opportunities, it has also put journalism and journalists in a bind.

At a newspaper conference some of the staff attended recently, the job outlook appeared grim for budding young journalists in all mediums, but in particular, print media. Media conglomerates are laying off employees by the hundreds, and companies like the Times Company, which runs not only the New York Times, but also the Boston Globe, are losing millions of dollars. I’ve learned this is happening for a couple of reasons. Firstly, people are reading their news online for free, rather than buying a paper or a subscription. Secondly, revenue from classified ads has been eaten up by eBay and especially Craigslist. Thirdly, the ad revenue from online ads does not nearly replace what newspapers could charge for a print ad. Oh, and the economic downturn does not help.

The news on the Internet is not a bad thing, but I think media conglomerates and students of media need to actually sit down and think this through. For the last six to seven years, papers have been freaking out, putting anything they could come up with on the Internet to draw readers because the Internet was “the next big thing” and they wanted to be on top of it. This included user-generated content (which I absolutely despise, but that is another editorial). Well, the Internet is no longer the next big thing – it is the big thing. Newspapers have to think about a more standard way of putting up stories, pictures, video, audio and particularly ads in a standardized way to try and find an uneasy stability in the Internet storm.

Additionally, consumers of media cannot continue to get their news for free. In order for credible news sources to keep qualified journalists in the places where news is happening, they need the funding to do it. Revenue from regular advertisements, subscriptions and classified ads funded newspapers, historically. Now that two of those sources of funding are either gone or unstable, subscriptions should become more stable. Newspapers cannot survive without subscriptions.

If one takes this to its hypothetical end – where newspapers are completely online – that removes printing costs. However, it also costs tens of thousands of dollars to keep journalists safe and equipped in some of the most tumultuous places in the world. Sure, you do not have to pay subscription fees, but you also will not know what is happening in Baghdad.

I am not a Luddite, but I am rationally thinking that newspapers cannot simply move onto the Internet without some strategic planning. As well, consumers must come to terms with the fact that credible news cannot be free. Even the most passionate journalists have to eat.