Prior to my career as an opinion writer / journalist in Australia, which began four years ago, I ran a successful poetic blog. My poems were political and a kind of social commentary and activism. But with this new demand for my opinion writing, I decided to close my blog’s doors. I was getting one to two articles published a week in major news sites, and so the need for my blog became redundant, because I was writing about topics I was passionate about.
But things have changed in the Australian news landscape – and across the world – and as readers of news, it’s important that you know how things have changed because it does affect you as a member of society.
Platforms such as Facebook and Google have sucked the advertising from news sites
Remember when Facebook was so simple, and you would post and all your friends could see it? Those days are gone. Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook for college students to socialise but today it is a money-making machine appealing to advertisers. So instead of paying to get TV commercials and spreads in print and online news sites, they are advertising to you directly every time you log into Facebook. And same goes for Google. It collects information about you when you search and it stores that information and uses it to sell to you.
With less income from advertisers, news sites have had to cut content
Have you noticed that there is a lot more white space on the home page of news sites? This is possibly a way in which these sites hide that there are less articles on the home page as opposed to how many there were a few years ago. Editors have had their budgets cut so where writers like me were getting one to two articles published a week, this output has steadily declined over the last few years to now sit at around one a month.
There is even less diversity in opinion writing than there was four years ago
Many freelance writers have had to start looking for work elsewhere which means we are losing a lot of great writers. With so much competition to get articles published, diversity has fallen down the priority list as news sites scramble for survival. What this means however is that our media is more whitewashed than ever.
News sites take their content from American sites and package it as their own
Another way news sites have cut costs is that some of their content now comes directly from overseas news sites, usually from America. This is called syndication, and what it means is that rather than paying an Australian writer to write an opinion article, they pay an American news site a smaller fee to republish their article. Syndication can be identified by scrolling to the bottom of the article where you will see ‘LA Times’ for example but the article was published in an Australian news site. The flow on affect from this is that less Australian voices are being heard and our content is becoming more Americanised.
Advertising is seeping into articles
Have you noticed there are more prominent ads on the homepage of news sites? With the competition from Facebook and Google, news sites have to offer more to their clients so they can continue to have their business. This includes having larger ads or offering what is called branded content. This is where advertisers may have articles written for them, by journalists, for news sites. These are articles usually identified as ‘sponsored by’.
Extreme views and more followers are more appealing than quality journalism
One of the ways news sites sell to advertisers is by showing them statistics on how many views they get across their sites. So clicks are very important. But what this means is that more extreme political or social commentating will appeal to news sites, yet this kind of commentating might not be what is most helpful to make our society better. Some examples are Andrew Bolt and Clementine Ford or Trump! Writers with a large social media following are also going to appeal to news sites as they will promote the article to their followers. These big names can become the cash cows of news, but this puts those writers in an extremely powerful position.
Why content going behind the paywall is really bad for society’s evolution
With advertising revenue decreasing, news sites have had to resort to putting their content behind a paywall and charging readers a subscription fee. But readers will tend to subscribe to news sites they politically align with and they won’t have access to other sites with views different from their own. If the left cannot read the right and the right cannot read the left, how are we supposed to learn from each other and evolve?
News sites don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them
Our government funded news sites will err on the side of caution when they publish content about the government in the same way that a news site will think twice about publishing an article that might offend their major advertising clients. We have just seen major funding of $84 million slashed from the ABC which came after fierce criticism from the government of its reportage. News sites have been put in a difficult position where they must be more vigilant than ever in an effort to fight for survival.
Don’t piss your editor off or you won’t be writing for that publication
Writers have less power than ever over their work as they scramble to be published in a market which is at overcapacity. It is even harder for writers to speak up if they have been treated unfairly by an editor, or if they have seen injustices in the media, and if they do they can very quickly be faced with getting barred as there are many more writers out there who will do what they are told.
So why start my blog up again and how can you help
I am still very passionate about writing opinion articles for major news sites and will continue to pitch my ideas to them. However, as a writer, I need an alternative platform to publish views that I know will never get published in the media because there just isn’t the money for it. As a reader, being aware of the issues above is especially important. I hope to open up my blog to other writers in the future. Support your news sites and support alternative sites such as this one in the hope for a better future. Also rally governments to subside journalism, and particularly our public broadcasters SBS and ABC, as we need their impartial journalism more than ever.