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My 2020 resolution: Pay for news!

This year I resolve to support the media that I like, i.e start paying for content I’ve been consuming for free all this time.

I believe that if we want better media, we need to start paying for it, and it’s not a matter of quality content, a free and fair media, is an absolute necessity for democracy to operate — after all, people can’t make informed choices if they aren’t informed.

Here’s the problem

But let me first explain what I think the problem is.

Today, all media I consume is via handful of aggregators, like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google, and Apple Podcast. These aggregators share one key trait, they’re all multi-billion American companies,

That one trait alone should be enough to make anyone squeamishly uncomfortable. For all the promises of the internet being a decentralized platform, where everybody gets a voice, and no one government could control — we’ve instead ended up with an internet of 5 Feudal Lords controlling the one resource everyone craves — user attention.

With the exception of the Apple Podcast, we have a little capability to manage the endless stream of information these platforms produce. Sure, you might choose your friends on Facebook or who you follow on Twitter, but the final decision of what content actually goes to you is made by an algorithm whose interest is guided purely by profit it will make its Feudal master, rather than interest of informing the consumer.

It’s truly sad, that most (if not all) traffic funneled into local news sites comes from these aggregators. Aggregators who, by the way, continue to avoid describing themselves as ‘media’ lest they be asked to inject some responsibility onto their algorithms.

It certainly isn’t healthy, that local journalism suffer an existential crisis at the hands of few American companies simply because they control user attention — specifically when those very same companies are competing for the same ad dollars as them.

Screwed in more ways than one!

When Joey Yap advertisers his Feng Shui bullshit on TheStar, at least there’s a monetary positive flow towards supporting journalism in Malaysia — when he spends those ad dollars on Facebook instead, local journalism loses out significantly.

There is a finite pie of advertising spend in the local economy, and every dollar spent on one platform (e.g. Facebook, YouTube) is a dollar denied to another (e.g. The Star). Which explains the decreasing revenue into news sites, and without the money it’s no surprise that they shut down one by one.

You can’t blame Facebook or Google, advertisers go to where their target audiences are — and it’s just more efficient and effective to advertise on their platforms than on regular news sites. Worse still, it’s not like advertisers have control over this, as Scott Galloway points out in his book The Four:

Facebook has five million advertisers. Advertisers have just two
platforms to market their products online. Advertisers need Facebook much more than Facebook needs any one,
or thousand, advertisers. If Ford Motor announced they were concerned with the subterfuge of our democracy
and were no longer going to advertise on Facebook, the Detroit firm would be commended for their actions in
the media, and the market would promptly cut 10 percent off their share price.

The Four – Scott Galloway

Exacerbating this further, other traditional revenue streams for news outlets have also left the nest– and they’re never coming back.

Job ads have gone to Jobstreet and LinkedIn, classifieds for cars and houses have moved to specialized websites that cater for them, even Stock prices and market news has left.

Morbidly, I’m the only one in my family that actively reads the obituaries, but even that will one day wind up somewhere else.

Triple Whammy

At least to my feeble mind, this simply means that journalism (traditional or otherwise) has been hit by a triple whammy.

  1. They’ve become increasingly disconnected from their audience through intermediaries that control traffic to their sites (i.e. Facebook followers instead of actual subscribers)
  2. They’re losing a tremendous amount of revenue to Facebook and Google, as more ad dollars move to social network sites, on top of lost revenue streams like classifieds or job ads.
  3. People are un-willing to pay money for digital news, the same way they paid cash for newspapers.

With all of these challenges, news outlets, traditional or modern, have but one place to turn — the consumer!

Unfortunately, the consumer isn’t budging, and in the mean-time we can see them struggle to keep their heads above water.

Just look at this screenshot I took from my iPhone while trying to browse The Malay Mail online, you can hardly see the news! It’s buried under ads, and banners — with the actual content rendered completely un-readable.

The screenshot is a cry of desperation, from an industry that isn’t sure about how it will move into 2020. Clearly the user experience sucks, if I have to close eleventy billion pop-ups before I can access the content I want to read, but you know what would suck even more?

Sucky Conclusion

If these news sites went completely bankrupt. That’s going to suck!

If you believe (like me) that a free and fair media is an essential ingredient in the ABC soup that is our democracy — then we need to do something about this, and quick! Because at current trajectory we’ll lose the good people in media we have.

So my new year resolution is to pay for my news in 2020. I started by buying a yearly subscription to TheStar, and monthly subscription to Malaysiakini. I also purchased a $5/year subscription to wired, because … it was just $5 dollars.

I know most people don’t like TheStar, but they are still a great news site, and I’d be happy to pay the Rm180/year if only to support the amazing team over at R.AGE. Malaysiakini is another awesome outlet, and while their regular news is not unique — they have amazing longform content on kiniGuide and Special reports. My only gripe with them is that even though they’re a paid website, they still have a tonne of ads littered across the site.

But TL;DR — I’m starting to pay for me news, and so should you!

I’ve even curated a list of media I consume regularly (free and paid) into a Google Sheet for easier management. My hope is in Q1 this year, I move away from consuming too much social media and jump straight into the apps owned and operated by the outlets themselves. Let me know in the comments what content you support and if I should give it a try as well.

2 Comments

  1. Hiew Chok Sien

    I recently read “Move Fast and Break Things” by Jonathan Taplin and it paints a pretty scary picture of how the big internet companies have been hurting the creative industry – music, movies, art etc.

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