A Free Press Is Worth the Cost


It’s at the heart and soul of good journalism, and without a strong foundation of quality reporting, there is no trust. Without trust, there is no audience, no subscribers, no reader revenue.

This fact – and the realities of news publishing in 2019 –  provides some sad commentary on how professional journalists view their livelihood.

“The consensus is that there is not a lot of confidence in the industry. That is very clear, with just 7% reporting they felt being a journalist means you are in a reliable job,” writes Sean Hargrave, MediaPost’s London editor.

Hargrave cited recent Cxense research that finds poor funding risks damaging the quality and sustainability of journalism.

The biggest issue? According to Hargrave, it’s quality, cited by 60% of the respondents as their biggest concern. Other major concerns are a reading public unwilling to pay for quality content; ongoing distress over fake news; and an over-reliance on advertising.

“The big takeaway is what every journalist will tell you. The commercial pressure on titles has never been higher because audiences are now getting their content for free and news is, in many cases, commoditized,” Hargrave continues. “That means there isn’t money around to fund great journalism as newsrooms shrink.”

Some look at this situation as simply market forces coming to bear. Yet almost nobody wants journalism to simply go away. A free press is the bedrock of this country. The risk to the Fourth Estate was noted four years ago, a year before Facebook basically walled off the news. The economies of publishing underwent a massive upheaval, sending battering rams through the wall that separated advertising from editorial. The dire predictions manifested themselves during the next year’s election cycle, and the fake news epidemic became a pandemic.

“It’s hard to see a way out of this,” Hargrave continues with his commentary on the research. “Around a third think paywalls might be the answer, but the irony is that if quality has dipped, will people pay for it? Paywalls can help if titles have invested in quality journalism, but the problem will always be that there are only a couple of titles that can pull this off in any niche.”

It’s truly a vicious cycle … and it takes forward thinking and a commitment by both the publishers and the reading public to pay for what we so desperately need.

A world with a free press is worth paying for. And I’m not alone in believing journalism can survive without overreliance on digital ad revenue. It’s time for anyone who believes that to seek out and be willing to pay for quality journalism. It’s a small price considering the stakes.