If we want better news, we need to pay for it.

Was the Oscars Best Picture mixup really that big of a deal?

For Twitter, maybe yes, but was it enough to warrant the production of full-length articles retelling the mishap all over the web, including the front page of the NYTimes (plus a few other posts elsewhere in the Times, just to make sure)?

Other articles were written to spell the impending doom of consultancy PwC who was in charge of the Oscars envelopes. My prediction? No longterm impact to PwC, and everyone will forget this in a few months/weeks/days.

Even today, when I goto the NYTimes, the Oscars are gone. Media organizations are back quietly to waiting for another story to send a hurricane of clicks and ad revenue their way.

It’s easy to blame the media for their constant production of click bait and meaningless news instead of producing real journalism. But we demand and consume this news. It’s our clicks that fuel it.

Personally I felt like this Oscars’ scandal was part of a desire to have a news cycle that gave us a break from politics. And so for one glorious day, instead of trying to find something to read besides the latest on Trump, I got to avoid clicking on articles covering envelope-gate.

What have we done?

While much of the mainstream news has gone click-baity and shallow, television has done the opposite. Netflix, Showtime, and Amazon (among others) have taken HBO’s lead to produce television that is deep, thought-provoking and entertaining at the same time. There is almost too much good TV to keep up with.

Online journalists are under different financial pressure than television. While online news media have to produce for clicks, TV producers can increasingly bet on subscriber revenue. This revenue gives them the freedom to produce series that are well thought out and planned, even if it takes longer to do so.

Case in point: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. The show is a news source, but it’s supported by HBO subscribers. Oliver specifically does not report on what happened in the past 5 minutes. Instead, he prefers to go deeper into stories after he and his team have had the time to think and reflect and write about them with a real point of view.

“We won’t do too much of the daily dramas of the campaign…Otherwise you get lost in the general campaign ephemera, where nothing is really happening of any significant consequence.”
-John Oliver, on the US Election

The short, quick takes on current will persist. Especially in an age where we can barely keep up with what the President did in the past ten minutes. However, I also foresee more news organizations investing in long term pieces. The current television renaissance and popularity of John Oliver’s segments reveal an appetite for it. But revenue models need to start backing more of it.

The NYTimes push for subscriptions has been very strong (enough to warrant a $2.5MM media buy during the Oscars). To me, that investment is not just about the importance of ‘Truth’ spelled out in the NYTimes campaign. It’s about freedom. If we want better news, we need to stop paying with our clicks, and pay what frees journalists to write better stories.


Originally published at brandingin4d.wordpress.com on February 28, 2017.