Twitter started it, as Twitter starts so many things. A friend tweeted the following take:
“The truth sits behind a paywall but the lies are free.”
Great quote! After all, we all know what it’s like to try to read an article and we come up against a pesky paywall. We want to be well-read and knowledgeable, but the damn New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post make us buy the news.
But … maybe let’s look again. After all, there’s another quote, that we all know and love:
“If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.” And another, “You get what you pay for.”
Okay, let’s say, though, that you truly want to read or listen to the news, and yes, you can’t afford a subscription to every major newspaper out there. An interesting article makes the rounds, and you all want to click on it and read it and join the conversation.
Friends, have I got a solution for you. Several solutions, actually, and they all have to do with understanding what news is, what editorial and commentary are, the difference between all of them, and where you can access good solid news reporting that doesn’t require a subscription and in fact, you already have access to these reputable, solid news sources, you just don’t know it.
You just need to cultivate a news habit, and once you do, you won’t be as prone to want to click on that link that’s gone viral, because you know it’s nothing but clickbait. Yes. Clickbait. Remember, if you’re not paying for the product…
News is current events as reported on and compiled by reporters and disseminated by news outlets such as newspapers, TV, and radio. That’s pretty much it. Who, What, Where, When, Why.
Simple, right? Here’s the thing. News is expensive. Solid, professional reporting, with news desks all over the world, and reporters on site at local state capitols and courthouses, reporting on the events and legislature that impact you at the local level, that’s expensive shit. That’s why newspapers have paywalls. Yeah yeah, information wants to be free, but that’s not the actual quote, either, and you all should know that by now, shame on you.
The current crisis in Gaza? News. The footage and photographs coming in from families under attack? News. A US politician saying that Israel has the right to defend itself? News, although that leads to…
Traditional newspapers have editorial pages and op-ed pages, for other opinions. Commentary from the right and the left are a foundation of mainstream news outlets. One of my favorite columnists is Leonard Pitts. In my local paper, he’s usually opposite some rightwing numbnut hack … sorry, a conservative columnist, sometimes Bret Stephens, sometimes David Brooks.
Stories that Israel has the right to defend itself and the US must support every one of its actions without trying to curtail it in any way? Commentary. But Patrice, you just said above that was news. Ah! That a politician said it – that’s news, especially when the politician is Joe Biden (although, sigh, not really a man bites dog story). That a columnist says it is commentary.
Other examples: Stories that state that the Biden administration is at fault for the increase in undocumented children on the border? Commentary, although…this can be news.
You say: Patrice, goddammit!
Okay, look. My idiot US Rep Michael McCaul sent out an email to his constituents stating that Joe Biden caused the crisis on the border. The email leaves out the history of the border and the context of the previous administration’s flagrant acts that separated children from their parents and created an unsafe environment for thousands of asylum seekers. This is commentary.
But there is a place for contextual analysis of what’s happening on the border in 2021, what happened under previous administrations, and how both Democrats and Republicans have handled immigration. That’s news.
There’s nothing wrong with sharing commentary and opinion pieces. Sometimes we want to get good and mad about the other side, and boy, commentary is a good way to do that. But America has a terrible confirmation bias problem right now, and you know, you don’t have to actually click on an opinion piece. You probably already know what side it’s going to come down on. So…why bother? It’s not news. I mean yes, bother if you want to! But news isn’t being withheld from you if this is your second article that month from The New York Times, and you really want to read what Mo Dowd has to say. (Fun fact: Dowd came to University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs to give a talk many years ago, and she’s a blast.)
The good news (hah!) is that reputable news is out there, and you don’t have to pay for it. You want the news? Last I checked, you can go to the CNN website, watch an ad, and get all the news you want. Oh, you want news news? Reuters.com is where news outlets get their news. Yeah, I’ve written about Reuters before. It’s like…ur-news. It’s the best. They might have a paywall – I’ve never hit it. (Update: I just hit it. But I registered and now I think it’s mostly free, although if I need to get a subscription, I will for Reuters.)
What other news can I serve you? Well, how about NPR.org? If you are a good person, you should support your local NPR station, as I do, because I don’t know about you but I want to get into heaven, but you don’t even have to do that.
There are dozens if not hundreds of news sources, newsletters, morning news e-mails, podcasts, etc. that will provide you with all the news and commentary you can wish for.
The trick is, you have to develop a news habit, and it’s not that hard to do. Don’t wait for someone to push you some outrage-mongering clickbait piece of trash, and then whine when you can’t read it. Sorry. I get that might be too harsh. How about don’t whinge. There, better?
Now That You Know What News Is…
The world is kind of a dumpster fire right now. So when you set up your news habit, sitting down with Reuters and your morning coffee, or skimming your excellent news brief, you may wish you hadn’t let this genie out of the bottle. But choosing your news can help prevent doomscrolling. I’ll say it again – most of the viral news pushed to you is going to be commentary and opinion, not news, not substantive analysis, not anything worthwhile. Its purpose is to evoke an emotional response, and it might not be a healthy response.
You don’t have to click on it. You aren’t missing anything.
You got your news. You’re good.