“Money, it’s a gas.”: Why Paywalls in investigative journalism should be supported
Paywalls within the liberal investigative journalism have been a rising issue since the time online news has become a credible source of information. There are a lot of petitions and debates regarding this and it is time we understand that Investigative Journalism needs support for them to thrive in a world where “Gossip” is considered journalism. Read on to see what Perspectoverse's Suhasini Mitra has to say about it.
There are two very heavy words in the above line. The first one being Paywall and the latter one being liberal investigation. To begin with, a paywall is a system that prevents Internet users from accessing certain Web content without a paid subscription. Investigative journalism is a form of journalism in which reporters deeply investigate a single topic of interest, such as serious crimes, political corruption, or corporate wrongdoing.
Quality journalism in digital media can no longer be supported by an advertising-driven business model. As competition for viewer attention grows more intense, several digital new-media organisations are resorting to sensational journalism and generating “clickbait”, which has been seen in certain low quality news articles. This leaves us with news-producing organisations that are financially crippled and unable to invest in high-quality journalism. Consequently, they become biased and end up bowing down to the advertisers’ wishes (Sibal 2018).
This lack of independence that news organisations are facing today is detrimental to the proper functioning of democratic politics. Voters rely on the media for information that help them elect their representatives. An increase in media coverage of an issue increases voter awareness about it, which forces politicians to put more eﬀort in their campaigns. Evidence suggests that electoral accountability is greater in areas where newspaper circulation is higher: state governments in India are more responsive in intervening via the public food distribution system and calamity relief expenditure when there is a fall in food production and crop damage in such areas. Quality journalism, therefore, enables voters to choose better politicians.
The discourse on funding independent news media has overwhelmingly revolved around economic sustainability. It has ignored the role of the media as a platform that is necessary for initiating a dialogue on civic issues. We blame social media algorithms for creating echo chambers, so that the content we encounter online matches our prior behaviour and preferences. Paywalled news content, once it achieves a critical mass, will be no different in the way it will segregate news content.
A public-funded media is, perhaps, one option.
However, government subsidies for the media, in the form of tax deductions for contributions made to non-profit media, ensure that the allocation of funds to the media is based on the choice of the readers. News websites with a higher number of subscribers tend to receive a greater share of government subsidy. This limits the government’s power to interfere with the media. For instance, Canada has announced tax credits for digital news subscriptions in addition to funding support for not-for-profit organisations creating open source news content under a creative commons license. Access to news must remain open while we explore other opportunities to fund independent news media.
It leaves us with the thought as to what we can consider as true journalism and how important the funding and support is for these liberal and free journalists to thrive in the current situation. This author belongs to Perspectoverse which is a liberal investigative journalistic organization among many other things.
Written by Suhasini Mitra
Illustrated by Rishita Banerjee