Monday, April 04, 2011

Critical environmental information darts behind a pay wall

 

To those who believe the marketplace should rule the planet (and not something as amorphous and unforgivable as Nature) must be heartened by the movement of one of our most important news sources behind a pay wall. The New York Times recently took a leap into the online media payment regime:

“This week marks a significant transition for The New York Times as we introduce digital subscriptions. It’s an important step that we hope you will see as an investment in The Times, one that will strengthen our ability to provide high-quality journalism to readers around the world and on any platform. The change will primarily affect those who are heavy consumers of the content on our Web site and on mobile applications. This change comes in two stages. On Thursday, we rolled out digital subscriptions to our readers in Canada, which will enable us to fine-tune the customer experience before our global launch. On March 28, we will begin offering digital subscriptions in the United States and the rest of the world. “(March 17, 2011) A Letter to Our Readers About Digital Subscriptions - NYTimes.com

It may be a big gamble, one of desperation, for such a large news organization to force its readers to pay for what they have been freely able to attain for years. There are so many other free media outlets online to choose from, albeit not with the quality and clout of the New York Times. Nevertheless, whatever your views on the media business model in the digital age, everyone, even those without resources, need to have some basic information about the state of our democracy and environment.

I am not against the New York Times, or any news outlet, making a living wage so that their business can sustain itself. What I question is that critical information, major studies that the NYT has conducted on our environment, will no longer be available for the huddled masses who don’t have the resources to subscribe to this newspaper or any other online content.

Please note: This is not a polemic about money and how news outlets stay alive; this essay is about how the majority of the public will get critical information in the future. We are at a juncture in this country where public broadcasting funding is being questioned, where the FCC has given mobile Internet servers free reign as who goes where online, where funding for libraries is dwindling because of community budget crunches, where extreme political networks are viewed as mainstream media, and serious, well-trained journalists are scurrying for a livelihood. And while many may think this is just ol’ creative disaster capitalism at play, it means the light is going dim on thoroughly researched and objective information that can reach a mass audience.

The majority of folks don’t need to know how many moose Sara Palin has shot or dreams of shooting, but the public does need to know if our atmosphere is warming up and what is causing it. How will the average citizen learn about the state of our environment if all serious media closes the door to them by making this information too expensive?

It is ultimately in no one’s best interest to have a sizeable portion of our public ignorant of the basic information they need to know. Eventually, and probably when it’s far too late, no matter how well a media has spun the truth about Climate Change, things will get hot.

An informed public must be the most important goal throughout this media upheaval. Other countries like Great Britain and the Netherlands understand this dilemma and are willing to steer public funding towards that end. We, however, have had that discussion hijacked by extremists who believe only the rich should be given tax breaks so they can gobble up and consolidate the media and then fill the airwaves with counterproductive claptrap.

So how are we in the United States going to have objective, mass distribution of information on energy (oil, nuclear, renewable, and natural gas) or Climate Change, when the major media outlets don’t even believe in science? How will the masses make informed choices if the news we need to know is only available to the rich?

Luckily, there are many who recognize the desperate situation our media is and have resolved to solve it: Check out this major media conference where the best and brightest will be assembling to make our media functional:

National Conference for Media Reform 2011 “The conference is your chance to meet, share ideas with and be inspired by thousands of people who care about the future of media, technology and democracy. You’ll join activists, media makers, educators, journalists, artists and policymakers in sessions about journalism and public media; technology and innovation; policy and politics; arts and culture; social justice and movement building; plus how-to workshops and hands-on trainings. You’ll see creative, courageous and conscientious films and meet with writers during book signings. And of course, you won’t want to miss the parties.”

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