What Are Readers Worth?
Paul Farhi, a reporter who covers the media for The Washington Post, has an article in the American Journalism Review arguing that papers should basically kill off their online editions and retreat to a print-only model. Obviously, I'm not a big fan of that conclusion, given the fact that I'm a paid employee of a newspaper's Web site. But putting my interests aside, this gets to one of the odder conflicts in journalism: Farhi is saying that the media should make a decision to inform fewer people. To do its job -- if you understand its job as providing news rather making profits -- worse.
His conclusion is an understandable one: If newspapers don't discover a viable revenue stream soon, they're not going to be able to do any job at all. But so long as we're in the realm of radical ideas that are unlikely to happen -- and closing down Web sites definitely fits that description -- it seems weird to focus on ideas that would mean fewer, rather than more, people reading the news. Why not go toward public funding? An NIH-style grants process? Something that allows newspapers to retain the huge audiences they've developed on their Web sites? The audiences that have made them better read than at any point in history?
Rarely do these discussions place much independent value on the existence and retention of these readers. If they can be monetized, then great. If not, then they're seen, almost angrily, as the cause of the problem, and keeping them around isn't prized on its own terms. Which is exactly the sort of thinking that leads me to ideas like public subsidies for newspapers: When the business concerns are so overwhelming that the actual reach of the news ceases to be a first-order concern, something is askew. If broadly accessible news sources can be supported by profits, that's great. If not, then maybe the problem isn't the broadly accessible part but the idea of leaving it all up to profits.
Posted by: Single_Payer | August 20, 2009 3:33 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: JimPortlandOR | August 20, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: tomveiltomveil | August 20, 2009 5:36 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jamusco | August 20, 2009 5:52 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: sunnybeaches2 | August 20, 2009 10:32 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Richard722 | August 20, 2009 11:25 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: amileoj | August 20, 2009 11:32 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: michaeljamesdrew | August 21, 2009 5:25 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: rmgregory | August 21, 2009 11:12 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Liz_B | August 21, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.