Good journalism is valuable. Plus: Internet is changing. NYT examines vaccine messaging

By Gary Abernathy

Good journalism is a valuable thing worth paying for

I often hear from readers, both of this newsletter and my Washington Post columns, that they can’t read some of the stories I link to without paying for it. Sometimes people express disappointment they can’t read my Post columns without a subscription.

I understand the feeling. Sometimes I have the same frustration. I click on a link to what looks like an interesting story only to be greeted with a message saying, “You have reached your free limit this month. Please subscribe,” or something to that effect. Like most people, I can’t afford to subscribe to every newspaper or news site on the internet. But I do subscribe to several.

One of the downsides of the internet is that we have come to expect almost everything online to be free. But the old saying often remains true – you get what you pay for. Some newspapers offer almost all their content free online, but that doesn’t mean they don’t depend on revenue from somewhere – usually a shrinking advertising base – to pay their staffs and the other costs of producing their newspaper. But most who offer their news for free have small staffs (which have gotten smaller over the last decade), and their coverage is consequently limited. Most large newspapers, especially those attempting to cover their entire state or the whole nation, have paid staffs of reporters, photographers and editors working hard every day to package the news for consumers to read on their preferred platforms.

We all have our opinions about which newspapers, or other news sources, are good or bad. Those opinions usually align with our political views. But everyone has seen the stories about massive layoffs at newspaper companies across the nation. It’s a terrible trend, because when professional journalists are unable to make a living, they naturally have no choice but to abandon journalism. What we are left with are unprofessional, less-than-reliable sources of information. Bad information leads to bad decision-making. As Thomas Jefferson famously said, “…were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter…”

So when you can, please do subscribe to newspaper websites. But either way, when you click on links and find messages asking you to pay for their content, don’t get upset. Remember that good journalism is a valuable commodity.  

Digital access and content going through big changes

On a similar, but still different, subject, USA Today reports (via free access, I’m pretty sure) the following: “Timothy Berners-Lee, the British computer scientist known as the inventor of the World Wide Web, says Australian plans to make digital giants pay for journalism could set a precedent that renders the Internet as we know it unworkable… It’s a question dividing proponents and critics of the proposed Australian law: does it effectively make Google and Facebook ‘pay for clicks’ and might it be the beginning of the end of free access?” Read the story here to get the full gist of it.

                One thing is clear: How the internet has operated is in the beginning stages of drastic change, some of which will be long overdue. Social media in particular is a major cause of the divisions we have in this country, particularly in the ability of people to go online anonymously to trash other people.

                Online anonymity, a handful of big tech giants deciding who can have a voice and who can’t (even banning a duly-elected president of the United States), the question of free versus paid access and many other issues are all coming to a head. The internet cropped up rather suddenly in the 1990s, as far as access by the general population is concerned, and regulation of it has trailed far behind its frightening reach.

                The unfettered ability of anyone out there to reach, potentially, millions of other people with the stroke of a keypad is the epitome of democracy, in theory. But freedom of speech without accountability – which is what anonymity leads to – is the height of irresponsibility. For the sake of public discourse, the internet needs to change.

NYT looks at impact of mixed messaging on covid vaccine

David Leonhardt of the New York Times has produced an excellent article tackling the issue of resistance to the covid-19 vaccine, acknowledging that health professionals have done a pretty bad job of marketing the vaccine, including sending mixed messages.

This example of the prevailing skepticism is provided: “Kate Grabowski, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins, told me that she has heard from relatives about their friends and co-workers choosing not to get a shot because they keep hearing they can still get Covid and pass it on to others — and will still need to wear masks and social distance. ‘What’s the point?’ she said, describing their attitude.”

Exactly. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who we really should start moving away from in terms of the best available advice and messaging, has been all over the board on covid since the beginning. For example, his message that even with the vaccine, masks will be necessary for a long time to come is entirely counterproductive. Happily, the new Times’ article never mentions Fauci.  

The Times article doesn’t go so far as to state that getting vaccinated eliminates the need for masking or social distancing. But it does the best job yet among the mainstream media sources that I’ve seen toward acknowledging that to achieve widespread buy-in on vaccinations, people need to be shown that the light at the end of the tunnel is very close and bright, not dimly visible months from now. Check it out.

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