Are the Increasing Costs of Real Online Journalism Helping the Rise of Conspiracy Theories and Misinformation?
Ensuring access to quality and accurate information on the internet is increasingly becoming an issue of money
Fake news is a saying that has established a foothold in the American lexicon since the early days of the Donald Trump presidency. While what he calls fake news is rarely the case, the country has actually seen a significant rise in fiction presented as fact. Sadly, misinformation and conspiracy theories have been accepted as gospel by an increasing swath of people, which may be a partial result of the rising costs of real online journalism.
One of the greatest attributes that conspiracy theories and misinformation have is that they are generally free. Presented in memes, YouTube videos and other online mediums not requiring subscriptions, they are accessible and also resonate with people who often are looking for a narrative to fit preconceived notions. The more that these are shared and spread as fact, the more it helps blur the lines of reality and create divisions.
Real journalism (yes, it’s real even if you may not agree with what the facts show) has taken many hits in recent years, especially in the realm of online content. Keeping operational has been increasingly difficult because of having to compete with a growing number of sources people are willing to accept as authentic voices of truth and reason.
Quality writing and research costs money. The result of this has been established and quality content-driven media outlets resorting to online subscriptions. Even in cases where readers may get a small number of free articles per month, such a system is designed to hook devoted readers into paying for full access instead of providing a cache of quality information for those unwilling or unable to sign up.
Good, informative articles are also a poor substitute for the diminishing attention spans of consumers who believe they can be just as well informed by viewing a free meme, video clip or salacious headline from an unsourced or unqualified writer. This is especially an issue in a society that has become known for its entrenchment in cognitive dissonance — searching out stories and ideas that most closely match what we expect or want to hear. Combined with the need to pay for good, unbiased content, this sets up obstacles that are preventing more and more people from access to facts.
Quality journalism isn’t infallible. However, the best outlets we have work from missions to tell the truth, no matter no matter what that may like. They aren’t and shouldn’t be concerned with making people happy; only reporting the facts as they are found. In an unfortunate twist of irony, the growing cost of staying in business is not only making their material more inaccessible but also helping spur the rise of readily available misinformation, and by proxy a confused and misinformed society.