David Carr has a piece in the New York Times today - "United, Newspapers May Stand," where he envisions a world in which the heads of newspapers all get together to hold hands and unanimously decide to work together and declare....
I don't take sides in the old media vs. new media debate. I think we have LOTS to lose if newspapers go under. But I also think there is an inflated sense of self-worth in this article. Not because I believe citizen journalism can fully replace traditional newsrooms - but because of what the world has gained by making news content free online.
Yes - putting content online for free has caused economic problems for newspapers - but it has made mankind better.
- How many people have been informed because newspaper content was made available online for free?
- How many people made better decisions because they were engaged in online conversations - that reacted to newspaper content?
- How many young people learned to appreciate high quality journalism because it was easy to access?
Of course - the numbers can't be quantified - since the information was free and we can't be sure how far any one idea from a newspaper article spread, emailed, blogged, reblogged, tweeted, morphed, etc.
I wonder if given the choice to go back in time whether Carr would change all this. Would keeping people ignorant and disengaged be worth saving the newspaper industry (or any industry)?
Putting aside that Carr's dream would never happen ( most newsrooms are cultured in scoops and competition, not collaboration), I think it is fair to say that mankind is better for having had access to this information for free.
Yes - it was a bad economic move for newspapers. But the decision has had a positive influence on millions of people. That newspapers are having a tough time keeping profit margins is secondary for me - compared to the incredible evolution in human knowledge.
And I'm a self-identified journalist.
The counter-argument could be made: Without an economic model newspapers will crumble and then there won't be any content available to enrich the lives of so many.
Fair point, to which I can only make this honest response.
I really believe that "journalism will survive the death of its institutions." That journalism will look different - but there will be a marketplace for quality information and individuals who provide it.
I don't know what that model will look like - so you can call bullshit on me if you want, but that is what I believe. And if you share that belief - then the idea of putting content behind a paywall to save an industry at the cost of keeping millions ignorant - just doesn't fly.