Newspapers, Blogs, and Free News vs. Paid
Posted by Stephen Lewis on August 19, 2007
Thanks to Doc Searls for pointing the way to a NY Post story on the possible passing of the New York Times‘s “Times Select” service (a pay-for-use gateway to the NYT’s archives and “premium” editorial content). While in one way I will be happy to save $50 a year and still have the full benefits of a web-based Times, my enthusiasm about the service’s demise is somewhat less than Doc’s. I am also a bit wary of some of Doc’s suggestions for bringing newspapers closer to the blogospere. Newspapers are in a squeeze. The newest generation of newspaper owners treat their holdings like businesses, in accountancy terms thus, looking at the so-called “bottom line” rather than at newspapers’ roles as public trusts and cornerstones of our informational infrastructure — i.e. sources of solid information and independent commentary essential to informed citizenry, democratic government, effective public policy, and well-functioning economies. Bottom-line and marketing-oriented decisions eviscerate the staffing, resources, and integrity that make newspapers what they are at their best. Within the context of the web, newspapers are often mistakenly compared with weblogs. But weblogs (this one included) are more about opinion than about fact. Most blogs lack the research staffs — and most bloggers lack the time and deep pockets — needed for solid investigative research and reporting. Actually, many blogs are informed by traditional new sources and devote much of their space and energy to linking to them and commenting on (or carping about) them. The irony: As owners fetter newspapers to business models they compromise newspapers’ roles and quality and as we chip away at newspaper’s income sources and push for newspaper to become more like blogs we might be doing the same. For an excellent portrayal of the dilemmas facing newspapers and those who still rely on and value them, look at “Read All About It” by Steve Coll on the New Yorker website.