Note: I know this entire scenario is unlikely. Please humor me.
A few weeks ago, my friend Becky and I were sitting in the library, contemplating why everyone thought journalism was going downhill. We’ve both accepted that newspapers in their current form are becoming obsolete.
We also recognize that information has never been in higher demand. People thirst for accurate information, and they want it here and now instead of tomorrow morning.
But they don’t want to pay for it. Now, I know the arguments about how making people pay for online content won’t work, isn’t right, etc. I know that everyone’s jumping on Newsday for starting to charge for its online content.
Yet good journalism isn’t free. Free isn’t a business model. Sure, anyone can become a citizen journalist nowadays and post breaking news online. Maybe this is just the elitist journalist in me, but those same people probably won’t take the time to put together a story/package/whatever, the kind of stories that might make a difference.
So how do you make people want to pay for online content?
You take it away from them. It’s kind of like how the Writers Guild of America went on strike so they’d get higher compensation for the work they did.
It’s just that in this case, you would ask news organizations to shut down operations until the public agreed that a certain price, whether that be subscriptions or micropayments or whatever, could be paid for the content. It’s a journalism strike. No stories, no broadcasts, no posts.
Writing all of this down, I recognize the absurdity of this idea. Hell, even when Becky and I came up with it, we made fun of it. For example, we created a “letter” we would send to Rupert Murdoch about this:
Dear Mr. Murdoch
Please shut down News Corp. starting next week. Trust us, this is going to save the industry. Kthnxbye.
becky and jessica
Yeah, it’s silly. Anyone passionate about this field would probably refuse.
But it makes an important point – news is valuable. Accurate information is valuable. Good journalism is valuable.
It’s a vicious cycle. Most news organizations rely on big staffs to produce good journalism. As they cut back, there are less people to produce good journalism. Because there’s less good journalism, the public is less likely to spend time with a newspaper or on a Web site. And because the public isn’t putting in the time, the advertisers aren’t putting in the money.
So what we as journalists need to do is make ourselves so invaluable to our public that they become willing to pay for it. We need to be at the top of our games. We need to work for our public, instead of working for ourselves.
If you build it, they will come.