I opened my Yahoo home page today and read the news headline “Outgunned Kurds Beg US for Weapons to Battle ISIS” and its lead paragraph. “Interesting,” I thought, so I clicked on the item, expecting an expanded story from a news agency. What I got was the Huffington Post.
“OK, they are becoming a decent news source,” I reacted. So I began reading, only to realize they gave me two paragraphs before redirecting me to Newsmax for the entire story.
Newsmax is a news site established with the aid of politically conservative political figures and journalists. That doesn’t preclude them from reporting news accurately, but can influence their news choice, analysis and opinion. Nevertheless, I read the 14-paragraph story written by Drew MacKenzie. It was a sound story. However, it only paraphrased a story by Washington Post reporter Terrance McCoy, “The strongest military left in Iraq has not stopped the Islamic State.” So I decided to read the original Post story.
When I got there I discovered that McCoy relied entirely on secondary sources: quotes from other journalists, a statement by President Obama and a quote the president attributed to an Iraqi parliamentarian, some previous Washington Post stories, online photographs, a New York Times interview, and an essay by a foreign policy specialist.
4 news organizations. 4 stories. No original sources. And no fact checking, I suspect.
Setting aside the problems this illustrates about journalism practices today, this example of news linking underscores why news organizations are having trouble getting people to pay for news. As this case shows, they are doing nothing new, adding nothing or little, and essentially copying each other and themselves. This gives readers nothing they cannot get elsewhere, so how can they expect people to see it as valuable.
This value creation deficit is especially a challenge if news organizations want readers to pay for journalism, but it is increasingly a problem even in asking them to spend time reading free content.
This kind of cheap news of dubious value will cause the death of many news providers in the coming years. If news organizations don't change their behavior, it will be death at their own hands.