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Paying for news in the digital age

As a journalism student, I probably run into this problem more often than others. I’ll get a phone alert about a breaking story from The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN or another news aggregator. I’ll open a web browser, hit the “N” and “Enter” keys and immediately be transported to The New York Times website, where I’ll be met with a familiar message: “Zero articles remaining this month. Get 4 weeks for free, then $1 a week.”

I’ll sigh, then close out of Chrome and open The New York Times in Safari where I still have “three free articles remaining” to read the piece I was interested in. This process is familiar for me and other people who seek to consume their news through the easy access of the internet. But it makes me wonder. Why do I work to evade the paywall? Why do I not want to pay for my news?

The truth is, news can’t be free. This creates an issue of ethics. The news is supposed to serve as the educator of the public, a spotlight for injustices and the fourth branch of the checks and balances system for our government. These services are a constitutional right to all, but they come at a price.

Digital journalism is the second most consumed news source after television news, according to a study conducted by Pew Research in 2016. However, this study also found that the digital trend is rising, due to the fact that most young consumers are turning to the web as their primary source of news — 50 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds and 49 percent of 30 to 49-year-olds use online platforms.

Because of this, it makes sense for news sources to put paywalls in place on their websites. As print subscriptions fall and digital presence rises, the way revenue is generated for newspapers has had to change. Digital subscriptions and advertisement revenue have evolved newspaper revenue streams.

The word “journalist” is associated with a lot of things, and the connotations you get depend on who you are talking to. Today our descriptions fall anywhere on the spectrum between evil, deceitful liars with an agenda to honest, curious investigators searching for the truth. The definition of journalist that often gets overlooked, however, is “job title.”

Journalism is a job. There are individuals behind the news who must be paid to research, travel, write, edit, produce and distribute the information that arrives on the world’s doorsteps or plays on its TVs. Journalism and news tend to “appear” out of nowhere. The stacks of newspapers appear in stores every day, the content on the TV is always changing and there are always new links to stories appearing online. We are surrounded by news every day, and so it tends to blend into the background of society. It can be easy to forget that journalism is a for-profit institution.

If we want to have access to credible, insightful and impactful news that will keep us informed about the world around us and serve as a watchdog for injustices, we must accept that just because it’s easy to clear your browser’s cookies to bypass the paywall, it isn’t something that we should do.

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