+ A

The trap of free news

When you get news for free, you don’t get to be picky on quality, and it becomes harder to distinguish what’s real and what’s fake.
July 19,2017
In his book “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century,” the American historian Timothy Snyder recommends reading newspapers as a way of avoiding the tragedy of tyranny. He studies the nightmarish events of the 20th century — dictatorship, World War II, the Holocaust — and then considers the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. Sensing the moment as an event that could crack democracy, he makes recommendations based on the historical experiences of citizens trying to protect democracy.

Snyder is concerned that ordinary people can become victims or collaborators of tyranny as they had been in the 20th century. One of the ways to safeguard democracy is reading newspapers, he argues, while advocating the importance of reporters in print media. “The better print journalists allow us to consider the meaning, for ourselves and our country, of what might otherwise seem to be isolated bits of information,” he writes.

Snyder also warns of the danger of skepticism, of deriding “the mainstream media” and only asking “What is truth?” He argues for putting trust in common knowledge and supporting the passion of professional individuals who investigate facts to protect society from tyranny. Journalists are not perfect, he admits, but the work of people with journalistic ethics is different from those without. He questions why people naturally pay plumbers for their service but seem unwilling to pay for news, and asserts that people need to pay a price to receive intelligent views.

The News Media Alliance, which represents over 2,000 U.S. media outlets, has announced that it will negotiate with Google and Facebook to pay for news. It’s been some time that news produced by the media is distributed through online portals that dominate advertisement profits and offer free news to consumers. In the meantime, the specter of free online news has disturbed the media ecosystem, mixing real news with fake news and encouraging derision and mockery of the media as a whole. It has become a worldwide trend that journalists are derided as liars and even trash.

As media companies around the world have begun to ask for a fair price for news, Korean companies are also arguing for their share of profit in the news distribution market dominated by online portals. However, it is not easy to get money from another’s pocket, and the outcome is hard to predict.

Nevertheless, paying for news is an important issue, especially to clean up the polluted news ecosystem and protect quality information. It costs a lot of money to produce news. Proper journalism takes time, effort and money. In my case, I learned from senior journalists how to collect sources and write articles through an apprenticeship. A company waits years for reporters to do their job properly and invests in them with domestic and international training. After that arduous process, a reporter is born. I cannot imagine how reporters who did not go through the training process will be able to write.

Journalism is becoming impoverished because of free news. When it becomes hard to train reporters, the writers of free news will prevail, and when you can get news for free, you don’t get to be picky on quality, and it becomes harder to distinguish what’s real and what’s fake. In the trap of free news, our efforts to seek truth may become meaningless.

When readers reject free news and are willing to pay a fair price for reliable news, journalists will renew their pledge to investigate and report fact-based news.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 18, Page 30

*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.

Yang Sunny