Commentary

Study: News Media Finances Are Too Opaque

Americans have grown more distrustful of the news media, with most people saying news organizations don't provide enough information about their finances, a survey found. I share that frustration, especially as more media outlets end up in private hands and rarely share any information about their sales, profits and losses.

Only a handful of publishers are publicly traded, making their financial condition more transparent.

Some 72% percent of U.S. adults said news organizations are not good at informing audiences where their money comes from, according to a survey by Pew Research Center. More people expressed misgivings about financial transparency than any other concern, including disclosures about conflicts of interest, news sources and whether a story was opinion or factual. 

While I'd like to see media organizations including publishers provide more detailed information about their finances, I'm also surprised people want a better explanation of where the money comes from. Isn't advertising abundantly obvious, at least among most mainstream sources of news?

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Whenever there's an outcry against a news outlet for its coverage, protestors invariably ask others to boycott its sponsors as a pressure tactic. Almost every other week, I see the words "boycott" or "cancel" trending on social media as protestors air their complaints about a company or celebrity's misdeeds.

Publishers can use these demands for transparency to their advantage, especially when asking readers to pay for a print or digital subscription. Explaining that reader support is vital in providing quality news and information, especially during the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, can be a key part of educating consumers about the finances of news production.

Only one-third of Americans are even aware of the financial effects of the pandemic on news outlets, Pew found in an earlier study. That's understandable, considering that most people have other things to think about than the financial health of the news media. But it does indicate there is room to raise awareness about the dire condition of news publishers and seek greater support.

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