A little part of me dies every time someone tells me they don’t read, watch or listen to the news.
“I’m so much happier this way,” one person told me.
“There’s too much horrible stuff happening in the world, I’d much rather not hear about it,” another said.
And yes, to some extent, I agree. It’s confronting to read, watch or listen to the news when headlines about President Donald Trump, chemical attacks in Syria and impending war with North Korea all dominate the front page. It’s easier to switch off, or tune into Netflix. It’s easier to just pretend that tragedy, violence, corruption, death and destruction simply don’t exist. It’s easier to escape it all.
But by switching off you are only allowing the journalism industry to die, and our democracy to wither away. Today, Fairfaix Media announced that 125 jobs will be cut from The Age and Sydney Morning Herald newsrooms. That’s one quarter of metropolitan journalists, gone.
But it’s not just about the jobs. Without the independent and fearless journalism of organisations like Fairfax, our government and major institutions can go unchecked. And that, to me, sounds a lot scarier than how I look after an eight-hour Netflix binge.
Not following? Let me give you a quick history lesson:
Since the invention of the printing press in the 18th century, the press has played a vital role as the “fourth estate.” Basically, this means the press has looked after the interests of “the people,” not members of the business and political elites.
Still to this day, this idea of the press being a “watchdog” remains unchanged. Journalists all over the world work to investigate corruption within various institutions, including governments.
What has changed though is our attitudes and habits as media consumers. The age of smart phones has left humans with a shorter attention span than goldfish. Be honest with yourself- when was the last time you picked up a newspaper and read an article? Is your Facebook feed the place you receive most of your news?
Herein lies the problem. Media companies aren’t going continue paying for stories that no one is reading. Instead, they’ll invest in more “shareable” and “viral” content. “Shareability” has become vital to traffic managers at any news organisation right now.
Journalism lecturer Gareth W Thomas wrote back in 2014 that web metrics have skewed the news agenda, prioritising “celebrity, scandal, weird stuff, funny stuff and sport” over “what journalists and editors consider to be important.” This still holds true: last month Fairfax Media also announced that they were reducing their budget by another $30m annually, with plans to focus on popular stories that attract more readers.
It isn’t all doom and gloom though. As the audience, you have the power. You can make a change. You can try something new next time you binge watch. You download some news apps and check them every now and then. You can buy a fucking newspaper.
And if you don’t want to do it for you- do it for me. If more people read the news, news organisations are more likely to hire new graduates like me.
Sign the Fair Go Fairfax petition here.