Entertainment vs. News: What will we pay?

We spend a lot on entertainment.

  • $16 or more for two at regular priced cinema for an average 2-hour movie,  with additional cost for any extras like popcorn or snacks.
  • $50 for high-speed internet.  The $30 bargain rate, “medium speed” (faster than dial-up, slower than high speed) connections aren't really fast enough for YouTube or other streaming video sites.  And while we might try to justify the speed as necessary for downloading program updates and trial software for work, the frequency of doing so doesn’t justify the higher speed.  The high-speed internet connection is about entertainment.
  • $40/month for a satellite dish subscription or $60 for cable TV, plus any additional for premium channels, on-demand programming, or a DVR.  Or you can get it with Internet access as a package for just $70 ($85 if you want the high speed internet).
  • $5 & up for cover charge at a night club depending on what’s going on.  Drinks and games are extra; the night runs 2 hours minimum, though probably longer.

A minimal month: 1 trip to the cinema, cable TV, Internet, night clubbing twice.  We’re looking at $100 and probably much more after snacks, booze, and a few rounds of pool.  If we watch only 4 hours of TV weekly, we’re spending 20 hours monthly on these various forms of entertainment. 

These figures are pretty conservative: most of us go out more often, so the monthly entertainment budget is typically considerably more.  The average person watches more TV than 4 hours per week, so the time allotted to entertainment typically amounts to much more than 20 hours per month.

But what are we willing to pay for news?  I don’t mean the tripe that is Faux News, CNN, and MSNBC.  I mean in-depth analysis that covers issues in detail and provides background and context to understand the facts.  How many of us actually subscribe to the Democrat and Chronicle or other local, the New York TimesNewsweek, Time, or US News and World Reports?  How many of us donate to PBS to ensure the PBS Newshour and the BBC World News stay alive?

We complain that the quality of news is lacking in our country, yet the younger generations aren’t willing to spend a cent on news.  We think our parents are crazy, still getting a newspaper that they could get for free online.  Not that we read it anyway: it’s all shoddy reporting and biased perspectives because they’re “in bed” with advertisers, we say.

But if we’re not paying for our news, what can we expect?  News agencies have to pay their staff somehow, and with diminishing subscriber bases of course they’re more and more dependent on the advertisers– and therefore want to keep them happy.  But did that come first?  Probably not.

Readership among the younger generations has been declining for some time, and the problem is documented in works like David Mindich’s Tuned Out: Why Americans Under 40 Don’t Follow the News.  And it’s not a simple problem either:

  • We make excuses like the news media being faulty instead of taking responsibility for our choice not to be involved.
  • Social media creates peer pressure to keep up with with the latest memes so we know what friends and acquaintances are talking about.  Although this could go either way, it most often encourages us toward trivialities.
  • With our educational system focusing on giving people job skills, there’s less opportunity for teaching civics.
  • With our insane work schedules, it’s understandable we’re not interested in the news, and especially not real news.  We’re tired.
  • With more and more news outlets, we’re able to select one that gives the perspective we want to hear– ensuring that we remain safe and unchallenged with our beliefs.  Especially on TV, where all income is from advertising, “fair and balanced” is far from it.  Instead of hearing and understand the dissenting opinions, and concluding that a position is wrong, we instead settle for a TV personality ardently dismissing the dissenters as a bunch of lunatics.
  • As we become accustomed to ardent dismissals, we’re learning to use them too– and are losing the ability to discuss or debate effectively.
  • The Internet doesn’t have a well-established system for microtransactions, allowing us to pay-per-article.
  • Even if a payment system was in place, the Internet generation is used to things being free.  OpenSource and Web 2.0 makes us think everything should be free or cheap, that crowd-sourcing and community contributions can be just as good as old-fashioned, researched reporting.  And that free reporting comes “unbiased” too.

How do we fix things? I think it’s a choice we have to make.  We have to choose to actually consume the important news, to read articles that relate to topics that have some impact over our life, rather than the emotionally charged pablum of “Timmy’s Down A Well” that makes headlines despite no impact on our lives and that we can do nothing about (other than be horribly fascinated with it).

There are still good publications out there, and we can choose to subscribe to help pay for the service provide to prevent them becoming dependent on advertisers.  When we have enough people who actually know what’s going on, and at least a mild sense of the complexity of the issues we face today, we might be able to start making decent decisions again.