It is not going to get better. In fact, it is only going to get worse. With the price of gasoline rising everywhere in the world and political freedom slowly being burned out, journalism and twin sister photojournalism, will continue to suffer a slow and painful death.
First, there are the newspapers, that cannot compete against the web anymore. While it was just against the speed and visuals of television, newspapers still had a few weapons of choice : The written word, the photographs and the ease of location. Unlike a TV set, newspapers could be carried around everywhere. Against the web, none of these advantages exist anymore. We can get news as faster and in even more locations than any physical newspapers can provide. No need to find a newsstand, the news is on our phones, or laptops. We can select what we read where we want. And we get images, if not videos. The medium itself is dying.
News Magazines, at least weeklies, are not doing much better. They have to put all their efforts into exclusive reporting in order to continue to compete with the web’s immediate delivery. But with the rising cost of staff writers and photographers added to the ever rising cost of travel, it is very fast becoming a negative income proposition. If you cannot send your own team on location, you will not get any exclusive coverage.
As for the Web, well, it is obvious. Newspapers, magazines, TV stations, everyone is competing for attention while delivering the content for free. In a way, news outlets are cannibalizing themselves, eating away at their very own core.
Here is the dilemma with journalism today: It is still trying to be a profit center when obviously it cannot be one anymore. News used to be for sale and people would gladly pay for it. They even went along with the fact that their attention was sold twice, to them and to advertisers.
The past and present news empires are a testimony of its success. Organization owned the news because they were the only ones capable of gathering it and distributing it for profit . Not so anymore.
Because the cost is rising and because we are dealing with profit businesses who need to cut cost , more and more news outlet are not even selling their own news, but news and photographs bought at wholesale prices and sold at retail . AP, Reuters, AFP and others are some of these news wholesalers. They can spread out their cost of reporting to thousand of clients. But for us, readers, we only get a washed down version of an event. We see the same photographs over and over. We do not feel any connections to our favorite publications ever since the competing one has the same exact content.
Why should I pay for something that is everywhere ? To anyone, something that is everywhere is either very cheap, or free. News is not considered as it should be a paid item anymore. It has been devalued to almost nothing. News outlets played a deadly bidding war against each other not by increasing the quality of their reporting but rather reducing the amount of money spend on gathering it.
Aggregation, shut downs, mergers are certainly are only elements of this downward spiral. In its insatiable thirst to remain profitable, the news industry is killing itself by cutting costs. They rely on Britney Spears to pump up the sales: cheap to cover and rather entertaining. Wrong idea. A single guy with a desktop and no notion of anything but himself can outdo any organization with no money : Perezhilton.com. With free images nonetheless, as he allegedly stole photographs from photo agencies.
So what is the solution ? Cut the middle man. For the readers to directly pay for the news by making news a public service. Before you start spitting on the floor while throwing your fist to the sky and cursing my name, let me explain. Currently, you are already getting a lot of publicly funded news. AFP, for example, widely distributed in the USA by Getty Images, is a government-owned company paid for with French taxpayer’s money. DPA, grand master behind EPA ( European press agency), is also partly funded by the German government.
Some of the best reporting, currently, is done by non for profit companies. In the US, channel Thirteen does some of the most amazing news coverage. It has the time, the resources and the will. Because it is not trying to sell you anything, it focuses on the issues. I know, you will say that you do not want to read or see propaganda. That is like saying that all public schools are brainwashing your kids, that firefighters are bias when they put out fires or that public beaches are secretly bugged with microphones.
Of course the temptation will be great, for a government to want to censor the news, if they feel they own it. But like other public institution, like libraries for example, there are many ways to protect the editorial content. And in a way, government interference might be more welcomed than any current hidden big business agendas ( think Newscorp and Murdoch for example). At least I can vote them out. I would much prefer my tax money goes to help fund journalistic investigations than helping killing people.
Just think of it : openly public funded news outlets with finally the right amount of funds to properly cover the news. Journalist and photo reporter will not be under the pressure of being fired all the time. Foreign governments might just be that much more careful if they know that the journalist are government employees.
We would finally get some news. Any and all news. Some regular updates on Darfur even if only less of us care.We would enjoy original and in depth reporting, great original photography and a much, much better understanding of our world. Would you really mind knowing that the New York Times is own by the US government ? Or by public funding ? That it serves the public needs rather than a private group of investors ?
It would be a real boost for photojournalists around the world and the quality of reporting because, let’s face it : It is not because of the lack of quality and interest that photojournalism is dying, it is because of the current inadequate economics behind it.