Media

Fix the news

 

2010_G20_Toronto_(4)

A Canadian media scrum/Wikimedia Commons

Commentary

 

If you’re reading this and you have a social media account of some sort, you hold the power to change the news.

So if you think journalism is broken – and a lot of people do – get to work fixing it. The solution is only keystrokes away.

Granted, you’re not going to change things overnight. But if you start today, you and your friend Bob and his friend Sally and her friend Roger and their friends on ad infinitum can clearly help shape future news coverage.

How?

Three words: Share, share, and share.

As a modern news consumer, you can break the stranglehold of the mainstream media cartel. Why depend on Google, Facebook, the website of your local newspaper, the New York Times, or any other to outlet to compile the news of the day when you and your friends can do it yourselves by sharing whatever news you like.

And if you’re sharing news you like, the media will notice. Believe me.

The journos watch what is trafficking on the internet, or at least the smart ones do. They try to get in on what’s trending. They (or at least most of them) recognize their survival is tied to producing that which people will read.

From a business standpoint, this is all pretty simple:

Stories unread are worse than worthless. Reporting is a time-consuming business. It takes times even to produce garbage. If someone is paying to produce news that no one reads, she’s losing money.

Money, money, money

Remember back to the election and all that hullabaloo about “fake news?” Remember how upset the mainstream media?

“Fake News: How a Partying Macedonian Teen Earns Thousands Publishing Lies,” the webpage of NBC News headlined. 

Was the media upset because people were creating “news” that was transparently fake or because someone else was making money creating news?

‘Dimitri — who asked NBC News not to use his real name — is one of dozens of teenagers in the Macedonian town of Veles who got rich during the U.S. presidential election producing fake news for millions on social media,” said the NBC story.

Rich!

“The articles, sensationalist and often baseless, were posted to Facebook, drawing in armies of readers and earning fake-news writers money from penny-per-click advertising,” the NBC story said.

Why, one almost has to ask, did NBC feel the need to give a teenager in Macedonia anonymity? But that’s a side issue. The better question is why was NBC News itself either missing a big story or reporting fake news in a story about fake news.

If some kid in Macedonia was getting a penny a click, he was doing way better than nearly everyone else toiling away on the internet.

“Every 1,000 visitors earns you at least a dollar or two with traditional banner ads sold through Google — boxes typically pitching products that readers have browsed online,” writes Paresh Dave at the Los Angeles Times.

A dollar per thousand is a tenth of a cent per click; two dollars would be two-tenths of a cent. Granted, Dave adds that a website might be able to triple that by running those “recommended content ads” at the bottom of their page, like the ones at the bottom of a KTUU.com page today teasing with “John Travolta’s Brave Confession Stuns His Fans” in Worldation or “Ever Wonder Why You Don’t See Sarah Palin Anymore” in instamediagram.

But nobody is getting rich doing this.

“It’s that mix of ads that significantly funds much of the Internet, including major media websites LATimes.com, Bloomberg.com and Newsweek.com,” Dave wrote.

It significantly funds the internet all right, but most of the major players in internet news are losing money in the tubes. Their operations survive as part of bigger print or TV operations.

Money, money, money

But that’s a side issue.

What we’re interested in is fixing the news, and that is all about what you click. For news sites to make money redirecting eyeballs to those teasers or Google ads or any other sort of advertising, the sites first need to attract your eyeballs to their news because internet reality number one is that the money follows the eyeballs.

And that’s where you can make the market work to produce the news you want.

If you stop reading and sharing what you don’t like, and continue reading and more importantly share-share-sharing what you do like, you can harness the market.

I’ll confess right here to my own selfish interest. Reporting – real reporting, which involves an unGodly amount of research – is a time-consuming business that produces a product for which few want to pay.

That’s absolutely perfectly understandable. Why would anyone want to pay for something that has been delivered free for a generations. Free news started with radio and expanded into television before hitting the internet.

And although there are some websites now charging people to read news, it seems hard to imagine that will work as the general model for the future if for no other reason than that a lot of websites have no reason to charge.

Public radio and television survive on donations and government help. They’re not going to start billing for their online news. Same for the BBC and CBC.

Radio and television stations make their money over the airwaves. They’re not going to start charging for their online news, either. In fact, the smartest of those in the electronic media (that would be TV and radio) have recognized that digital media (that would be what you are reading at the moment) can be used to drive viewers to their main product, which also happens to be their profit center.

Any revenue TV and radio stations collect with online advertising is just gravy.

Money, money, money

And then there are little websites like this one,  or Crude Magazine or MustReadAlaska or the former Alaska Commons or those yet to come try to eke out a go on a combination of advertising, contributions and sponsors.

The smart ones good at sales hook up with local advertisers or sponsors or both. AmandaCoyne.com, now gone, made that work.

Those that suck at sales struggle on until they realize the news-should-be-free model won’t work, and they are forced to quit. I know that feeling.

“If we could get 500 people to pay $10 a month and some businesses to pay $100 per month, we could raise enough money to hire some writers,” Chris Bailey, one of the founders of Commons said after editor John Aronno finally gave up.

Commons couldn’t find the contributors or the businesses and “officially retired,” as its website says.  Google ads do, however, continue to pop up at the Commons when the site is opened. If you want to try to make money on the internet, the way might be to open any number of websites, populate them with almost anything you think people might read, and hope to make a few bucks off the Google ad money that trickles in.

Or resort to “fake news” if you can figure out how to create the traffic. To make any real money there you need to drive people by the hundreds of thousands to your website. The way you do that is with tantalizing posts or ads on Facebook, Google+, Twitter or Instragram.

If all those juicy stories about Macedonian kids getting “rich” are to believed, this worked to some degree during the election when the mainstream media was writing so many negative stories about Donald Trump that those who liked him or simply disliked his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, went looking anywhere for something positive.

This led to a lot of concern about “fake news.” The concern, on the part of everyone other than Trump, seems to have died down since. Trump continues to label anything he doesn’t like as “fake news.”

And those in the press who don’t like him continue to provide ammunition, see the Washington Post and claims the Russians hacked the U.S. power grind.  Despite this, the Post remains among the most shared news sources in the country.

It is waging war with the New York Times for internet news supremacy. A lot of the country doesn’t like significant parts of whatever either reports, but the Times and Posts continue to attract the page views as other news sites struggle.

The media giants are winning the click vote. The score every time you click on one of their stories. They get double points whenever you share one of their stories. Whatever they’re doing is obviously working.

Americans are granting them the power to define what is and what is not news. The latter might be more of a concern than the first, especially in Alaska. A lot of what happens in the far north gets missed by those on the faraway coast or misinterpreted or spun off in strange directions.

But you have power to change that. Put the market to work. Send them a message. Start sharing the news you want with your friends and keep sharing. Do it constantly. Become your own “aggregator” of the news as they say. Spice it up with your own one line or 100 line commentary. Form your own agendas.

The media elite might not like it. They’re not much for the collective wisdom of the masses. The masses are a threat to their bottom line. Threaten them. Fuel the competition. Force them to think, what if, God forbid, we’re not writing what people want to read?

Now, share this story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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