By Jason Stverak
We tend to think of online news — especially digital versions of newspapers — as a relatively recent phenomenon. After all, most major dailies still have more paying print subscribers than digital subscribers.
Americans reported they read more news in print than online as recently as 2007, and print advertising revenue was still steadily rising less than 10 years ago.
But the landscape of journalism has been shifting for more than 30 years now. The naive wonder of the 80s news anchor as she describes “sitting down to your morning coffee and turning on your home computer to read the day’s newspaper!” may be charmingly nostalgic, but many of the concerns presented in the video still ring true today.
The news segment’s key quote came from the San Francisco Examiner’s David Cole, who said of online news, “We’re not in it to make money. We’re probably not going to lose a lot, but we’re probably not going to make much either.”
Cole may have understated the financial havoc that the digital revolution would wreak on the print journalism industry, but his sentiments are nonetheless an accurate description of the dilemma facing the news media.
The Internet allows news outlets to reach audiences and report in real time like never before, but it also creates a host of ethical questions. Most notably, chasing advertising dollars through flashy headlines, well-placed tweets and search-engine optimization gimmicks is easier than ever — and many of the most prominent news and information websites have used that model to great success.
But 33 years later, Cole still has it right. As journalists, we’re not in it to make money. However strong the temptation to prioritize clicks and dollars over quality content may be, it would require sacrificing far more than we could ever gain. And that’s an exchange we’re not willing to make.
Jason Stverak is president of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity and publisher of Watchdog.org.