Fortunately, most of the commercials are usually possible to ignore; a little banner on the screen is easy to tune out if you aren't interested in reading such things. For these relatively discreet ads, companies are paying big bucks; on one popular sports web page, it costs almost $1,000 per day to have your blurb appear prominently.
What worries me, though, is what will happen when advertisers start demanding more for their money. When that happens, those ads won't be so easy to overlook. The button that activates a search program, for example, might be part of a large graphic advertising automobiles; to use the program, you'll have to wait for the entire picture to load. Or maybe you'll have to answer a short questionnaire about (say) refrigerators to see the results of the search. I predict that such advertising will gradually appear over the next year or so.
It will be up to the Internet community to decide the acceptable limits on how far this will go. Personally, I would stop using a search program or visiting a particular site if the advertising became so intrusive; likely many others would, too. Once the numbers of "hits" decline, the advertising will retreat to a less obnoxious presence.
This is all fine; let the marketplace strike the balance between commerce and content. Valuable services are provided free, the advertiser reaches its audience, and the Internet gains even broader acceptance as a result. Everybody wins. But if advertising is such a benefit, then why isn't the Albion Monitor free and supported by ads?
There are a couple of reasons. As I wrote in my very first editorial, advertising poisons the news media. Look at any example: newspapers, magazines, television or radio. In each case, you'll find the advertising flank of the business heavily influencing the editorial side. Some ways are obvious; there's little space in your hometown newspaper for in-depth features because of all the ads. Local television news is too often fluff, thinly disguised P.R. passed off as newsworthy events.
But other interactions between advertising and news are more subtle, more deadly. For journalists, it creates an ethical dilemma: do you risk printing a story that will offend advertisers who pay the bills? After one newspaper ran a buyer's guide to car shopping, the local automobile dealerships temporarily pulled their ads, reportedly causing the paper to lose over a million dollars in revenue. Imagine what would have happened if the newspaper published an investigative series on the industry instead of a harmless consumer piece.
And what do you do when the advertisers ask for favors? Let's pretend a 24-hour gym is a large advertiser, and the client suggests a story on the healthful benefits of exercise -- with their ad included on the same page, of course. Should you run the article? With or without their ad? Should the editor run it even if it means a more important health-related story must be bumped? These are bedeviling dilemmas.
We believe that a newspaper exists to serve the interests of the community, not the advertisers. We also believe that the only way we can avoid the inherent ethical conflicts is to reject advertising.
The other reason why the Albion Monitor is by subscription-only is to protect the writers, which I wrote about in another editorial. As professional reporters, they need to control where their writings appear -- that's how they make their living. This is the downside of free net accessibility; everything in the net datastream is (essentially) in public domain. None of them can afford to do that.
Only by making the Albion Monitor available by subscription can we offer quality original material by top-notch writers such as Mark Lowenthal, Paul deArmond, Simone Wilson, Mark Heimann, Ceil Sinnex, and our many other reporters. We can offer photos not available anywhere else, such as Nicholas Wilson's dramatic pictures of the Headwaters protests and aerial view of the moonscape clearcuts just outside the forest. And only be restricting access can we obtain permissions to reprint articles that do not appear elsewhere on the Internet.
A good newspaper is built on trust. You trust us to bring you in-depth stories about the environment, human rights, politics, health, and more. You trust that the Albion Monitor will provide articles that are thorough, accurate, and well-written.
We, in turn, trust that there are enough people in the Internet community to support an electronic newspaper that offers no compromise. To learn how to obtain a password, read our instructions page. A password is free if you live in Sonoma County and have a monitor.net Internet account, and $9.95 per year if you use another Internet service or live outside our area.
We hope you'll subscribe and join us in this grand experiment. We promise to bring you the best investigative journalism, the news you can't find elsewhere, and to proudly refuse all commercial advertising.
Hope to see you then.
Jeff Elliott, Editor