Our family has a dilemma – we’re big believers in reading and supporting high-quality journalism, yet we’re also frugal.
But maybe this isn't as big of a problem for you.
After all, the internet is full of free information, from blogs to social media to sites that are advertising-based, like Huffington Post and Buzzfeed.
But those options can have their problems.
Not all blogs are well-sourced, and free can sometimes mean the quality of information suffers.
And that seems to be especially true of news you get through social media and the rise of so-called "fake news."
What is fake news?
It’s incredible how fast the term "fake news" has spread across our culture.
According to Google Trends, there was hardly much impact with the phrase in Google searches until an enormous spike in 2016, both in North America and worldwide, coinciding with the U.S. Presidential election.
That highly-contentious campaign introduced most of us to the "deliberate disinformation" of issues and stories intended to help certain people and other vested interests.
The folks running Oxford Dictionaries went so far as to declare "post-truth" as the word of the year in 2016, saying the use of it was “fuelled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment.”
How do I avoid fake news?
Being choosy with social media is a start.
While free, Facebook, Twitter, and the like can act as conduits for all kinds of information, factual or not...ever heard of flat-earth theories?
While it helps to remain critical of news received this way, it’s also an extra reason to sink one’s teeth into quality journalism – publications and websites that endeavour to check facts, employ standards, and seek out truth as opposed to purposefully distorting it.
Additionally, some sources of news on the web, including Google News and social-media feeds, piggyback on the paid journalism of other sites.
Ultimately, someone has to pay the piper…
This guide helps to figure out when (and if) it should be you.
Now could be a good time to double down on your national public broadcasters.
After all, as taxpayers, you already pay to fund the CBC, which employs journalists across the country and beyond, some of whom are considered the best in their business.
The CBC’s nightly The National TV broadcast might be its best known "product," but its online presence can be daily must-reads, whether through the main CBC News website or its many local sub-sites.
Not to be forgotten are provincially-run broadcasters.
In Ontario, for example, TVO provides an acclaimed weeknight newscast called The Agenda that delves into today's topics with hour-long depth.
Other provinces with public networks include Quebec (Télé-Québec) and British Columbia (Knowledge).
Other national broadcasters
It can be worth searching out public broadcasters in other countries, too.
PBS, funded primarily in the U.S. (though Canadians can and do donate money), has several prestigious journalism offerings, including its nightly newscast, PBS NewsHour, and its award-winning investigative series Frontline.
The U.K.'s BBC shouldn't be forgotten as it has an international bent not always seen in North American media. Check out its comprehensive website, including a tab specifically for U.S. & Canadian news.
Libraries can be an invaluable source for high-quality journalism. Many local branches subscribe to numerous newspapers and magazines begging to be read.
And if a trip to the library isn't in the cards, many library systems offer journalism options online.
I live in Hamilton, and our library system offers apps for both newspapers (PressReader) and magazines (RB Digital). Check with your city's library for possible options.
PressReader, for example, offers me free editions of the National Post and The Washington Post, among many others, while RB Digital overflows with magazine options, including The Atlantic and Newsweek.
Some tips to keep the subscription rates low
After all this, there are still reasons you might want to shell out for a subscription:
- for ease of use,
- to more directly support journalists, and
- to actually have paper in your hands as you read.
Most publications offer both digital and print subscriptions, although some print options are fading.
New York Times
Possibly the best deal out there for both quality and price is the New York Times. Granted, it has an east-coast U.S. bias, but its international and Canadian coverage continues to expand.
And while NYT print subscriptions remain expensive, its online subscriptions can be super cheap, especially if you watch for discounts and haggle.
Recently, the New York Times had a special offer for new digital-only subscribers at a rate of $2 (Canadian!) per week for a year. This gives you access to all of their articles online from any device.
Of course, this is a promotional rate, and reverts to the regular rate of C$5 a week after a year, which is still pretty cheap.
A tip to extend promotional rates
If you're looking to extend a promotional rate, just call back and request that your previous rate is reinstated. It's as easy as that.
One customer service rep even encouraged the practice recently, telling me to give them a ring once their promo rate was done.
Set yourself a reminder as they won’t do it for you – I use my iPhone’s wickedly simple Reminders app for this, which syncs to all my devices so I’ll never forget.
Make sure to turn off any automatic renewals, since this is how they "get you" with the teaser rate.
Maximize your use of free articles
Many publication websites that are behind paywalls offer free articles temporarily, something like 10 free for the month, or free if it comes from a Google search. Always maximize free.
And once you reach your limit, there might be temporary workarounds too. Like using a different device, using your web client’s private browsing feature (to turn off the site’s "cookies" which remembers how many times you visited), or turning on its “reader view” mode.
But if you find you visit one site more than others, that might be the one you could consider subscribing to.
The British publication The Guardian provides all of its articles for free and it's one of the last to do so. But every article comes with an appeal to become a subscriber...So good luck with the guilt.
Don't ignore your local community news
Community newspapers are often passed over as merely vehicles for weekly flyers, but they're free and can cover local issues important to you.
Other free papers in some cities include "street papers" (like NOW in Toronto or The Coast in Halifax) and transit papers, like Metro and 24 Hours.
Share the love of news
Share publications with friends or family members – especially magazines, which usually don’t get as stale as daily newspapers.
And consider sharing subscription costs with those close to you.
What about you?
The way we get our news has changed over the years, but the importance of being informed hasn't.
How do you get your news? Do you still pay for a newspaper?
Are you at all concerned about fake news? Or do you find you're pretty good at telling the difference yourself?