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"The time is ripe for rethinking the First Amendment as a positive call for non-market support of a meaningful journalism"

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Linking to my anti-newspaper-bailout rant from last week, the L.A. journalist Gary Scott, who produces for the great public radio interviewer Warren Olney, opined that "several straw men were harmed in the writing of this column." Maybe! But perhaps that's just because I neglected to link to this howler of a Monroe Price piece in the Huffington Post–a publication that, according to The Atlantic's Michael Hirschorn, "is the prototype for the future of journalism"–arguing for a federal "News and Information Democracy Act of 2011." The whys and wherefores of our coming newspaper bailout:

The case for legislation is the relatively easy part: our idea of a democratic society depends on the notion of informed voters, and of a press that can serve as a watchdog and critic of power. The emerged industrial structure that has (arguably) allowed us to have a democracy-supporting media is being rapidly eviscerated. […]

So the time is ripe for rethinking the First Amendment as a positive call for non-market support of a meaningful journalism. […]

It looks like we're going through a painful transition from analogue to digital newspapers, from print to Internet. A comprehensive piece of legislation…could help lubricate the transition, determine whether there are common or collective approaches that would make the transition smoother, and possibly provide some transition support and supplement the working of "the market" with a sense of what the path should be from here to there.

Here's an example: bring down the price of the Kindle or Sony Reader to under $25 and make the devices universal delivery systems for local and national papers; have each Kindle default-programmed to receive one of several competing national digital papers and one local paper, building in an annual fee for a newspaper fund that is billed to the holder of the low-cost or free apparatus.

Federal legislation could establish…a Center for Journalism and Citizenship. It could provide technical assistance (and perhaps funding) for state and local efforts to prop up existing journalistic enterprises or to encourage web-based substitutes.

It goes on (and on) from there, including "a small tax on Internet usage that would go into a fund to support journalism," tax deductions for newspaper subs, and offering "incentives to advertisers who place their business in digital papers that meet a minimum standard in terms of informing the public." Good thing Monroe Price isn't teaching journalism and law to impressionable young kids!

In other man-bites-straw news, the entertaining New York Times media writer David Carr, who I almost never pay for the pleasure of reading, openly pleads today for some business smartie to somehow "reverse the broad expectation that information, including content assembled and produced by professionals, should be free." In the process of blaming the readers, Carr casually commits a sin seen almost daily in bigshot newspapers, but hardly anywhere else in this hyperlinked world of ours. See if you can spot it:

Mr. Hirschorn is a smart guy—I used to work for him at a Web-based media site—and while there is nothing sacred about The New York Times, the experienced, and yes, expensive journalistic muscle it deploys on events big and small is not going to be replaced by a vanguard of unpaid content providers.

A Web-based media site??? Forget the awkward elocution for the moment: Would it really kill the New York Times to mention, I dunno, THAT SITE'S NAME??? I cannot tell you the number of times I've seen this happen in major newspapers, just concerning incidences that affect people I know. It is classic gatekeeper mentality–we can't just go around giving free advertisements to people on our precious pages! Even if it means giving readers less information in more words! Take this NYT story from last year, which was based entirely on a document that I provided them, for free. Here's how they put it: "The paper was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and provided to The New York Times by Matt Welch, an author of a book about Mr. McCain." Hmmm … was it this book? (Looks interesting!) Maybe this one? How about this? Lots of books out there on ol' whatshisface.

Look, David Carr, and you other newspaper journalists I like a lot less, SAY IT!!! Just say the name! It's not just the question of an untipped hat; sometimes the name itself contains a crucial piece of otherwise missing context. As was the case with Michael Hirschorn.

Why? Because the subject of Carr's noodling (both in this column and another recent link-grabber) is the idea of training online readers to pay money for content they otherwise enjoy for free. And the "Web-based media site" at which Hirschorn employed David Carr FAILED PRECISELY BECAUSE OF THAT MODEL.

That site was called Inside.com; it was going to be (in the words of co-founder and late-breaking web adopter Kurt Andersen), a "must read online site for members of the cultural elite," who were allegedly ready to pay literally hundreds of dollars a year for the privilege. After the 2000 dot-com crash. It was, in other words, a business model that was literally insane. "Subscription has to be a part of it," Hirschorn insisted in a jargon-flecked interview from the summer of 2000. By the summer of 2001 he was off peddling '80s nostalgia at VH1, and Inside.com was on the inside.track to extinction. "Few readers were willing to kick up $200 to read the magazine," Media Life eulogized. "Initial projections called for 30,000 subscribers in the first year, but the numbers fell far short of that. According to some reports, paid subscribers never numbered more than 5,000." Relevant to a piece about online subscription models, no?

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  1. Advertisements contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper.
    Thomas Jefferson

    Ever been annoyed by all those ads and banners on the internet that often take longer to download than everything else on the page? Install Adblock Plus now and get rid of them.

  2. The paper was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and provided to The New York Times by Matt Welch, an author of a book about Mr. McCain

    Jesus! You did their damned research for them, and they still wouldn’t give you a plug? What assholes.

  3. “reverse the broad expectation that information, including content assembled and produced by professionals, should be free.”

    Heh. A Times columnist thinks he is a “professional.” Isn’t that cute?

  4. Relevant to a piece about online subscription models, no?

    Relevant to a news publication, but the Times is in the business of selling confirmation bias — in this case, apparently to itself.

  5. Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers Kindles or Sony Readers, or newspapers Kindles or Sony Readers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

  6. So the time is ripe for rethinking the First Amendment as a positive call for non-market support of a meaningful journalism. […]

    Wow, did homeslice hurt himself with that contortion?

    Allow me to suggest what he really means: get the government into the news business.

    And no, NPR isn’t non-market support of Journalism– at least the non-government part of NPR– I should say.

  7. Even if Welch had beaten up a straw man or two, when there’s hundreds of billions of dollars of TARP and stimulus money up for grabs, maybe a little preemptive strike isn’t entirely out of line.

  8. Federal legislation could establish…a Center for Journalism and Citizenship.

    Jesus H. Christ. Did he write that with a German accent while sporting a daunting monacle or eye-patch?

    I can hear the boots marching down the street now.

  9. …that’s the thing about old media like newspapers and radio–they move so slow.

  10. Again, this is why Welch is my favoritest Reason.com guy. Keep up the excellent work, sir.

  11. It goes on (and on) from there, including “a small tax on Internet usage that would go into a fund to support journalism,” . . .

    Does the printer that came with this computer count as a ‘press’?

    I am sensing bailout check for Montag Haus!

  12. You gotta admire his commitment to shoehorning “new media” into the dead-paper paradigm.

    Also he’s a statist technocrat fuck.

  13. Also, continuing on my violent anarchist tendencies as of late…

    There are too many brains and not enough bullets.

  14. So he wants American news media to operate like British television: tax TV (or computer) owners forever and ever, and use the tax money to produce content, whether or not anyone actually watches it.

    And you can’t ask a politician hard-hitting questions if the final question of the interview is always going to be “So, uh, when’re you gonna send me my next paycheck, huh?”

  15. Bingo,

    Remind me to remind you after I buy some Remington and Winchester stock “we’ll make more”. 🙂

  16. “The time is ripe” . . .

    So you are moving on, so to speak?

  17. Guy:

    Have you seen the price on whitebox 7.62? When is Washington going to take a stand against the price-gouging we innocent civilians endure!!

    Think of the children…

  18. Matt Welch is showing the real issue that can catapult Libertarians into serious political relevancy.

    The “Stay the Fuck away from my Internet” demo will be a winning coalition within the next few decades.

  19. Sorry if someone alread said this, but…

    The case for legislation is the relatively easy part: our idea of a democratic society depends on the notion of informed voters, and of a press that can serve as a watchdog and critic of power.

    Can someone please explain to me how “watchdog and critic of power” can be getting their paychecks from that very same power?

    I think Mike Judge’s guess of 500 years in Idiocracy is a little too optimistic…

  20. Matt’s revelations about the inner workings of the LA Times are fascinating. The only thing missing is some juicy salary information…please please please tell me what Steve Lopez makes. I promise I won’t breathe a word to anyone.

  21. So how do we just stop all this madness and offer up a vote of no confidence in our government? I quit this wretched establishment.

  22. Oops, Jennifer beat me to it, and as usual, in a far more eloquent manner…

  23. The case for legislation is the relatively easy part: our idea of a democratic society depends on the notion of informed voters, and of a press that can serve as a watchdog and critic of power.

    This statement would carry more force if existing media actually served as a watchdog and critic of power.

    As it stands, the “MSM” only functions as a watchdog against sexual peccadilloes by politicians and criticizes only those who put their dicks somewhere that generates good ratings. As long as you don’t fuck around, you can do whatever the fuck you want as a member of the political class in the United States, as far as old media is concerned.

    The primary watchdogs and critics of power in the US today are NGO’s and new media figures.

  24. Fluffy,

    Your generalization of who they attack for sex needs to be a bit more targeted.

    Otherwise it was fine.

  25. Nick,

    So how do we just stop all this madness and offer up a vote of no confidence in our government? I quit this wretched establishment.

    Just under 2 years from now in the USA. The UK uses Metric, so it is different. 😉

  26. our idea of a democratic society depends on the notion of informed voters

    …and our public schools have done such a great job of informing us all, that public newspapers would be even better!

    Oh, wait.

    -jcr

  27. Can someone please explain to me how “watchdog and critic of power” can be getting their paychecks from that very same power?

    Oh, easy! They can be like the BBC, bitterly criticizing the government at every opportunity for not being commie enough!

    -jcr

  28. The case for legislation is the relatively easy part: our idea of a democratic society depends on the notion of informed voters, and of a press that can serve as a watchdog and critic of power.

    The thing is, the press we have now and in the recent past, which is being held up as something worth preserving with legislation and money, barely performs that function. For every Watergate or warrantless wiretapping or other such story, hundreds of possible stories go by the wayside. The idea that major media outlets are performing this noble function at the moment is almost laughable.

    A comprehensive piece of legislation…could help lubricate the transition,

    You know what follows after lubrication…

  29. As it stands, the “MSM” only functions as a watchdog against sexual peccadilloes by politicians and criticizes only those who put their dicks somewhere that generates good ratings.

    You left out the ever-popular, groundbreaking, “Pretty White Girl Goes Missing On Vacation In A Developing Country” story…

  30. Pretty White Girl Goes Missing On Vacation In A Developing Country

    They’re also quite fond of the “celebrity divorce vaudeville” genre, and the “OMFG! We’re all going to die of dihydrogen monoxide poisoning!” story.

    -jcr

  31. I will say (and I am not a Montag imposter either) that I sort of like the non-politician owned news better than the way it was in the old days.

    Not saying it it great, but I do like the idea of anybody being able to write now over the old press days of politician owned presses.

    Yes, I am including Ben Franklin in that.

  32. socialized media as a “watchdog and critic of power”? roflmao!

  33. By all means, let the newspapers fail, and then a really dumned-down electorate can get all its news from ideological sludge spewers like reason. Confirmation bias is the guiding principle of the new journalism. God help us.

  34. …this howler of a Monroe Price piece in the Huffington Post…

    I lol’d.

    Here’s an example: bring down the price of the Kindle or Sony Reader to under $25 and make the devices universal delivery systems for local and national papers; have each Kindle default-programmed to receive one of several competing national digital papers and one local paper, building in an annual fee for a newspaper fund that is billed to the holder of the low-cost or free apparatus.

    Or you could find someone to offer a subsidized netbook for $99 and bill them a monthly fee for access to a “universal delivery system” for ANY newspaper that is online.

    Except that plan doesn’t include a non-market support “fund” for newspapers that can’t figure out how to compete in an increasingly online world.

  35. “Initial projections called for 30,000 subscribers in the first year, but the numbers fell far short of that. According to some reports, paid subscribers never numbered more than 5,000.”

    And those lazy ass journalist bums did not sense the opportunity that a list of retards willing to part with 200 dollars for such a ephemerally defined service represented? With a little effort they could have been on those marks like Morris Dees and milked that cash cow for years.

  36. By all means, let the newspapers fail, and then a really dumned-down electorate can get all its news from ideological sludge spewers like reason.

    I’ll just point out that you misspelled “dumbed-down”, thereby relieving us of any need to respond to your inane comment.

  37. The case for legislation is the relatively easy part: our idea of a democratic society depends on the notion of informed voters, and of a press that can serve as a watchdog and critic of power.

    …which is why it’s the NYT that’s always breaking these stories of wrong-door or otherwise messed-up SWAT raids.

  38. Can someone please explain to me how “watchdog and critic of power” can be getting their paychecks from that very same power?

    Good question. How can we expect them to criticize the big media corporations that write their paychecks, or the big corporations that pay for advertising? At least the people can control the powerful parts of government with their votes, no one can control the big corporations in any way.

  39. The government should regulate news content to make sure it is truthful.

    Otherwise, the corporate media will just brainwash them into supporting all kinds of terrible nonsense.

    We need a government ministry to make sure that people know the truth, because they are too stupid to figure it out themselves.

  40. “…and Inside.com was on the inside.track to extinction.”

    Haha! Nicely done.

  41. By all means, let the newspapers fail, and then a really dumned-down electorate can get all its news from ideological sludge spewers like reason. Confirmation bias is the guiding principle of the new journalism. God help us.

    As much as I hate to feed the troll, I would like to point out that if the newspapers are failing, it’s entirely because a “dumned-down” electorate isn’t reading them. I fail to see how forcing said electorate to pay for commentary they’ve quite clearly shown no interest in reading is any sort of solution.

    Of course, newspapers could also rekindle their commitment to serious journalism and start to produce professional, quality content again…nah, it’s bailout season!

  42. So the author wants me to pay a ‘newspaper licence’ much as UK’ers pay a tv licence?

    Ugh

  43. Good question. How can we expect them to criticize the big media corporations that write their paychecks, or the big corporations that pay for advertising?

    Wait, wait, wait. I just want to make sure I have this correct. Now that the big media corporations, who obviously won’t criticize their bosses, are getting hammered because of a little competition, you want the government to give money to support the big media corporations?

  44. big media newspapers need help. they are almost the only thing in america that really does not need to be nationalized.

  45. Just wait, soon the government will be fuding “professionals” like this.

  46. Here, let me fix this:

    By all means, don’t let the newspapers fail, and then a really dumned-down electorate can get all its news from ideological sludge spewers like reason The New York Times.

    There. That’s better.

    Hey, where’s my paycheck? Top-quality professional information assembly and production like that isn’t free you know.

  47. At least the people can control the powerful parts of government with their votes LOL let me know when I can vote out the bureaucrats, no one can control the big corporations in any way and they can’t control you w/o the government giving them the power.

  48. If that last Lefiti comment is the same Lefiti, then I may have to move him out of the “troll” category and into the “high level satire of trolls” category.

  49. Politicians increasingly rely on the “dumned-down” public to get into office. And the MSM is the one feeding them the info. Critical thinkers don’t decide elections anymore, Joe the plumber does. If the government controls what information the proles get, they’ll be able to direct things to further cement the way things are. Just tell whatever entitlement group you’re after what they want to hear, whether true or not, and you’ll get votes. Those of us that do a little independent research to verify and analyze are severely outnumbered by the sheep.

  50. Seer – the sad (happy?) part is, is that no one knows who the real Lefiti is any more.

  51. OT: Why can’t Reason be creative like this? Or, maybe they have, in private.

  52. If the government controls what information the proles get, they’ll be able to direct things to further cement the way things are.

    Well, the government already controls the information that most of the proles get, and it’s unusual for them to go looking for anything deeper.

    Papers like the NYT and the Washington Post will attack or even take down the occasional vulnerable politician (Nixon, Spitzer, Clinton, etc.) but they’ll never challenge the system. They’re like varicose veins. If you remove them, circulation of information will improve sharply.

    -jcr

  53. OLS,

    That video sent a shiver down my spine. It’s not on the same scale as North Korea’s tributes to the Dear Leader, but it’s certainly heading that way.

    -jcr

  54. Stretch wrote, “…if the newspapers are failing, it’s entirely because a “dumbed-down” electorate isn’t reading them…”

    Bummer. I was sorta hoping it was because a “wised-up” readership was abandoning them.

    The ownership and management of newspapers must honestly ask themselves, “what are we providing our readership that is worth the asking price?” From the amount of downsizing, consolidation, and closure that we are seeing in the newspaper industry, I would imagine that the answer is all too often, “not much at all.”

    The newspaper that is perceived as giving readers an edge — helping them get that job; land that contract; earn that promotion; make a good political or financial decision; find that killer sale or bargain; discover that excellent beer, wine, movie, restaurant, or music group; avoid that traffic jam; lose that weight or kick that habit; realize their leader has feet of clay BEFORE they drink the kool-aid; recognize the key players in the local scene; or ANYTHING that justifies the purchase price — will be a newspaper that survives. As I see it, anyway.

  55. Matt, that is going to leave a mark

  56. I’m confused as to how there could possibly be a *single* person in the United States who would think that publicly funded newspapers is remotely a good idea…

    And also, not to deliberately feed the trolls… but seriously… “We can’t do anything about the corporations”??? The fuck we can’t!! We seem to have done a good job killing General Motors for not making anything we want to buy……….. if only their zombie, undead corpse would stay dead, we could rest easier. Oh but wait, that’s a government thing, not a “corporation” thing.

  57. Nice post, militant comments

  58. The national reaction to an internet tax would be interesting. Geeks with pitchforks could be a powerful revolutionary force in defense of freedom.

  59. Just adding, that I have never seen online newspaper stories link to the official text of any bill passed into law.
    This relates to what Matt was saying about papers not wanted to “advertise” for others by linking to extremely relevant information such as, a book mentioned in a sentence, or the actual TEXT of a national law that just got passed.
    If only there was a website where you could go to find out not only the text, but also exactly which Senators and Representatives voted on the bill…

  60. I have to disagree with most of the tenor of these comments, and the post. Yeah, a bailout would be absurd. But I don’t see the traditional press as providing bad journalism, except when it tries to ape “new media” and does a half-hearted job. (Have you seen Time lately?)

    No; the New York Times is a beautiful paper. There’s thought in it. I can’t read it without a wave of longing for the City. (Yes, I will back that sentiment up with a subscription, in a few years; at the moment I’m a broke student.)

    The thing is, I want to be informed and instructed, and I like fine writing. I like to refer to an authoritative newspaper, not (just) a welter of videos, news clips, and online opinion pieces. I think — yes, I’m blaming the readers — that fewer people want to be taught by their newspapers, or at all. There’s a good Harlan Ellison interview (on Youtube, yes; he’s disturbingly young) where he said he wished television could teach people something. It’s cute, and sad, because by comparison to today, 70’s television, at least the news, was edifying. And now we’re going to lose the papers? It’s nothing to cheer about.

  61. a press that can serve as a watchdog and critic of power

    Ha ha ha! A lapdog, maybe.

  62. I have to disagree with most of the tenor of these comments, and the post. Yeah, a bailout would be absurd. But I don’t see the traditional press as providing bad journalism

    And I don’t see anything in the post that asserts anything to the contrary.

  63. Sorry there — you’re right, you weren’t saying the journalism was bad, apart from the lack of hyperlinking where credit is due, and there you’re right to criticize. It would cost them nothing to be more informative.

  64. I’d like to take time right here to point out that simply copying an AP bulletin is not journalism, but it is what 90% of people want, quick glance information, not in depth review which in theory is what print journalism is supposed to provide. Even if the internet ceased to exist tomorrow, the NYT would never recover their readership, because TV would go back to being the dominent form of media. Then the NYT would whine about being unable to compete with the talking heads. Face it NYT, your day is over unless you find something that people actually want to read in print. The Economist and Reason provide me with good, entertaining, informative articles that I pay money for, the NYT simply provides fodder for other media. Maybe NYT should go into the business the AP is in and compete for short information blurbs to be distributed to other media outlets.

    In other words David Carr, suck it up you namby pamby!!

  65. The case for legislation is the relatively easy part: our idea of a democratic society depends on the notion of informed voters,…

    I suspect that the writer’s notion of an “informed voter” is one who votes for Democrats.

    I was going to comment on this gem:

    Federal legislation could establish…a Center for Journalism and Citizenship.

    but Paul handled it better than I could at 7:20pm last night.

  66. I love when people who regularly attack the market for its (invented) tendency towards monopoly actually go so far as to ask for the establishment of a government regulated (controlled) monopoly… this time a media monopoly, which can be the only result of this clown’s redefined First Amendment.

    And can we talk about the fact that he considered forcing Amazon to sell its Kindle for twenty-five bucks?

    wtf?

    I feel like I’m taking crazy pils.

  67. I’ve never seen an exclaimation point after “Maybe” before.

  68. “Can someone please explain to me how “watchdog and critic of power” can be getting their paychecks from that very same power?”

    I dunno. Before the Iraq war started, the BBC did a better job of asking tough questions than American media outlets. Maybe getting their paychecks from the government meant that they had to be extra particular to avoid the accusation that they were government puppets. Meanwhile, American media outlets fought each other over who was the most patriotic warmonger among the lot.

  69. The newspapers have totally missed the boat on this one. Kids growing up now think that newspapers are simply paper versions of the internet. Time for those dinosaurs to go extinct. I’ll be getting my FREE news from sites like Reason.

  70. Thanks for the article, Matt. I always like a good horror story first thing in the morning. 😉

    As for newspapers, I find little worth reading in them any more, which is why I don’t subscribe to them. Most of what I do read (online) are the funny pages. And sometimes the opinions… Oh, wait…

  71. “The case for legislation is the relatively easy part: our idea of a democratic society depends on the notion of informed voters, and of a press that can serve as a watchdog and critic of power.”

    I wonder *whose* idea of a democratic society they’re talking about? Yes, having informed voters and critics of power is important, but it isn’t something that can be successfully legislated. The more society is controlled, IMO, the less democratic it becomes.

    “So the time is ripe for rethinking the First Amendment as a positive call for non-market support of a meaningful journalism.”

    Translation: “Time to nationalize the press.”

    “Federal legislation could establish…a Center for Journalism and Citizenship. It could provide technical assistance (and perhaps funding) for state and local efforts to prop up existing journalistic enterprises or to encourage web-based substitutes.”

    Sounds to me like something out of a George Orwell novel. *sigh* Don’t high school English teachers make kids read 1984 any more?

  72. Don’t high school English teachers make kids read 1984 any more?

    Psh…that old thing? 1984?? That’s like, what…75 years ago? Ancient history and no longer relevant… There are many, much more “proressive”, novels that serve Teh Children much more positively.

  73. One issue that hasn’t been addressed here is that the newspaper model only made sense in a context where there were geographic limits to one’s ability to secure information.

    Newspapers had to be printed and transported to sale locations in a timely way. This meant that it made sense to have your editorial staff, your production staff, and your printing facility in or around one city.

    This meshed nicely with an advertising model supported by local classified ads, local retail ads, etc. – those businesses were seeking local customers who also happened to be the local readership of the locally-produced newspaper.

    That model no longer makes any sense, in a way that goes beyond the “people don’t want to pay for content” problem identified in the post. It stopped making sense as soon as you didn’t need the physical newspaper.

    It may be that having a local newspaper in each mid-sized or larger city now makes about as much sense as having one computer operating system company in each mid-sized or larger city.

    Local classified advertising is now dominated by a single company. The major retailers can post their circulars to their own websites in .PDF format. There’s no reason for me to read news in a local newspaper that I can read online – even if you find a way to make me pay for content.

    Rather than scores of local newspapers supporting a gaggle of journalists, it may be that the appropriate economic model for news now is a small number of megaproviders of content who use freelancers to attach local content if people are willing to read it and who are paid only when that content is read. Sort of a combination of CNN.com, Associated Content, and Drudge.

  74. Also, people advocating a bailout for the newspapers have to answer one question for me satisfactorily:

    Are they really interested in an informed public, or in protecting established institutions that support and employ a certain type of white collar intellectual professional?

    Because I can’t help thinking that if it turned out that it was possible to have an “informed public”, while at the same time gutting the local newspapers and journalism schools and turning out a large percentage of reporters, editors, and journalism professors to be street sweepers instead, that some new reason above and beyond “democracy” would be found to justify bailing these entrenched institutions out.

    Maybe I’m cynical, but I just get a vibe here that we’re going to be called upon to bail out a lot of companies because of romantic attachment to mastheads and institutions and because the lifestyles of intellectual professionals have to be protected, and not because the “informed public” is really at risk.

  75. Jibber-jabber about what we need to do to save the endangered “informed public” strikes me as being no different than jibber-jabber about what we need to do to save the endangered unicorn.

    I’d need to see one first.

  76. The funny thing about newspaper columnists bitching about the content being “free” on the internet is that the cover price of a newspaper doesn’t even recover all of the distribution cost of the paper – so the reader never paid for the CONTENT anyway, he only paid for the DELIVERY. Every newspaper sells their ads on an “impression” basis, not a copies-sold basis; perhaps I’m too young but I don’t recall newspapers ever campaigning against letting your friends and family read your copy of the paper. Web-based distribution of the content isn’t cost-free, but it IS about 90% cheaper.

    And every newspaper certainly has a much more accurate count of web page hits/impressions than they ever did of their hardcopy impressions. Now that advertisers have more accurate information, they purchase ad space accordingly – sounds like newspapers must’ve been overstating their impressions for all those years.

    Plus, the biggest revenue-killer for newspapers isn’t free distribution of content over the web, it’s craigslist.

  77. sounds like newspapers must’ve been overstating their impressions for all those years.

    I do recall a fairly major scandal a few years ago, with several major dailies grossly inflating their subscription count.

  78. I dunno. Before the Iraq war started, the BBC did a better job of asking tough questions than American media outlets.

    Yes, they did. They sympathized with Mr. Hussein’s secular socialist government. It wouldn’t make sense to topple such a regime.

    They are right, of course, but by accident. Most Reason readers would have argued that Hussein’s Iraq simply was not a threat and therefore unworthy of invasion.

  79. IF,

    If (wasn’t that clever? lol) the revenue structure had something like newsstand price covers delivery then you have an argument. It doesn’t, but not really an issue.

    Advertersing pays for the newspapers.

  80. Sigh. We already went over this last week.

    From Jeff: “The newspapers have totally missed the boat on this one. Kids growing up now think that newspapers are simply paper versions of the internet. Time for those dinosaurs to go extinct. I’ll be getting my FREE news from sites like Reason.”

    Your “free news from sites like Reason”? With their hordes of reporters on the ground, doing the grunt work to dig up and present the basics day after day? Do you have any idea where news still comes from, even in the face of newspapers’ financial struggles? It’s weird — it’s as if certain people think this all operates in a vacuum, as if a Reason.com is sitting here all by its lonesome, scoping out the world and figuring out what’s what.

    Nevertheless, the kids you describe are correct: The printed edition is merely a “paper version of the Internet.” A newspaper executive in 2009 would tell you exactly that.

    Once again, the word “newspaper” seems to be throwing people off. It has nothing to do with paper anymore. These are news organizations that present content on the Internet and then put some of it on dead trees. Jeff, you’re back in 1999. The sphere of argument isn’t about delivery models anymore. Everybody knows paper is going away. The sphere of argument is: How can human beings report and present news on the Internet in a financially viable way?

    You could, right this minute, wipe out every single organization called a “newspaper,” and let people start this whole news-gathering endeavor from scratch. And they’d still ultimately be faced with the same basic dilemma: making enough money online to cover the expenses of doing comprehensive journalism.

    This is all you need to know about the nut of the problem: WEB ADVERTISING DOESN’T GENERATE MUCH MONEY. For anybody. The problem starts and ends there. This gets to Invisible Finger’s post, wherein it’s implied that this is all about ad “impression” counts now coming down to earth. No. Most news outlets actually have more readers than ever. Their web audiences far outstrip what they had in print. The problem is with the nature of advertising online, especially versus print.

    This whole debate about newspapers’ struggles just keeps going around and around. Conservatives like to think it’s the result of “bias.” Tech-heads like to think it’s because “citizen journalists” have outmuscled professionals. Journalists like to think their “idiot bosses” have screwed up somewhere. But it’s none of that. It’s all very simple. There’s just no easy answer.

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