When I hear newspaper industry veterans talk about getting paid for content, it makes me want to cry. Case in point, this speech from Bill Monroe to the Midwest Newspaper Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, given Feb. 4, 2010.
What’s missing in today’s marketplace is a way to enable newspapers to protect that content and to profit when others reuse it. – Bill Monroe
I’m sorry Mr. Monroe, but I must disagree quite strongly. The reason journalism should be free is that journalism is extremely valuable. Sound counter-intuitive? Not at all.
The process of journalism boils down to this: it is discovering information that few people have, but lots of people need, and disseminating that information as broadly as possible to ensure that those who need it, have it.
In a democratic society, there is possibly no process more valuable than that of journalism, outside of the process of democracy itself. From the neighborhood association to the national government, the public need to be informed about what is being done in their name, so that they can make informed decisions about the who and how of government.
And here is the catch. The output of the journalistic process is only valuable when it is delivered in a timely manner to the widest audience. Journalism that is hidden and inaccessible is oxymoronic. Placing news behind a pay wall makes it less valuable.
If we are to take journalism seriously as a public service, then our goal must be to spread the information farther and faster. It is ironic that the Internet has made the process of journalism more efficient and more effective, yet has made the process of supporting a business around it more difficult. But this is the reality of the 21st century, and denying this by attempting to restrict access to the news is a recipe for failure.
If you are a big shot in the newspaper industry, I beg you, do not destroy journalism in the name of saving it. The nation needs you to be smarter and more innovative than that. Find new business opportunities in making markets more efficient, rather than creating artificial scarcity and friction. Please.
Journalism is just too important to be locked behind a pay wall.