Democracy requires a healthy news media to keep it in check. A healthy news media requires money to pay its top reporters to go investigate stories. The Internet is sucking money away from TV news organizations and traditional newspapers and news magazines.

Unfortunately the free news distributed on the Internet doesn't make much revenue for any individual company. The ad-supported model is too weak, and growing weaker as the amount of content grows faster than the number of advertisers. So eventually there will be no funds to pay investigative reporters. The so-called "news" will be whatever information is cheapest to gather, such as lies from the people in charge. That will doom democracy. Obviously we're more than halfway there already.

Once democracy is completely broken, crazy dictators will find it easier to get nukes and then it's a slippery slope to total nuclear annihilation.

A recent cover story in Time suggested that the solution for creating a profitable news media, and thus saving the world (I added that part), was a generally accepted system for micropayments on the Internet, so news could be purchased as easily as music on iTunes. The technology part is doable, but in my opinion most of the public will prefer free news sources over paid news even if the quality is vastly different. So the Wall Street Journal, for example, could continue doing great reporting as a subscription service but too few regular citizens would read it to make a difference.

The other way things could go is that news media companies will merge until a few moguls control all of it. That would solve the profitability problem. But at that point it won't matter if the few moguls have the money to pay investigative reporters or not because the moguls will effectively control the world. The last thing they'll want is accurate reporting. With any luck the media moguls will back puppet leaders who are benevolent dictators. That's our best hope.
Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  0
  • Print
  • Share


Sort By:
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 19, 2009
Dear Scott,
Feb 19, 2009
I don't know, it it apply for U.S. - but here, in my country, is already no difference between printed and web media. However, the doom of "democracy" is unavoidable anyway - can we be free, if the state manages some 50 % of all we earn... (remember the "no taxation without representation" - ha ha ha).
Feb 19, 2009
I still have a paid subscription to the Boston Globe, even though I live in the "Metro Northwest" area (tr: 40 !$%*! away in exurbs). This already places me in a minority, I realize, because most people asked have been receiving their news content from TV for years. There is a difference in advertising impact amongst the various news media in that TV is the most "in your face" thus most memorable; but ads in newspapers and magazines make a greater impression than that seen on the Internet, thus far. (The latter is virtually ignorable unless it is so obnoxious that it makes me surf to another site) Moreover, newspapers have been subsidized by advertising since time immemorial, but for the most part this has not affected editorial content. Has it? Weren't there as many ads in the Washington Post in 1973-74 as now? I would also suspect that die hard newspaper readers are better educated, thus (probably) better off economically. IMHO, newspapers should stop complaining about becoming superannuated and pitch themselves (and get their advertisers to pony up) to this demographic. The previous comment about public television content and the willingness of supporters to pay for this premium service is a case in point (and advertising doesn't even enter into that equation).
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 19, 2009
"but in my opinion most of the public will prefer free news sources over paid news even if the quality is vastly different"

So? What does it matter if most of the public isn't interested, as long as enough people pay to make a journalism business profitable? What matters is whether your income is greater than your outflow. The total number of people getting similar stuff for free does not appear in that equation.

That's the same mistake the record companies made. They worried about how many people were getting stuff for free, when that variable is completely irrelevant to any real business model. If you charge a dollar for a copy of some content with a fixed production cost, would you rather that a hundred people consumed your content, and every one of them paid (zero piracy) or that a million people consumed it, but only a thousand of them paid (99.9% piracy)?

Do business majors not get taught this?
Feb 19, 2009
Attending school plays is not without cost.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 19, 2009
Funny you write this today - I was just thinking that I have 100% stopped receiving news via TV and most newspapers other than local happenings. I haven't paid a magazine subscription in over a decade. I hunt and gather my news on my own via Google Reader or other aggregators available and read online. The thought of shifting through the political bends to the ALL networks (yes, even your beloved Fox News Phantom ii) is more effort than it is worth. It is all a little "Orwellian" yet normal. I am guessing we will soon have virtual news piped to us once we finally allow ourselves to become plugged into the Matrix. Or perhaps I already have...hmmmmm
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 19, 2009
Clay Shirky wrote about why micropayments wont work, back in 2003. His arguments do hold: http://shirky.com/writings/fame_vs_fortune.html
Feb 19, 2009
Your first comment "...money to pay its top reporters to go investigate stories.", assumes that these "top reporters" are independent in the first place. Watching the media over the past few years (actually since Ronnie), I find quite a few holes in that argument. Accurate, concise news reporting died when television started their talking heads-whatever looks good and sells commercials mantra (where's Murrow and Cronkite when you need them?). There are a few good journalist left who do a damn fine job. But they're few and far between and being over run by the Rupert-ites who want to define the news before their 'hot' anchors report it.
Given the above, the rest of your post is well on its way to being a reality.
Feb 19, 2009
"...news media companies will merge until a few moguls control all of it. That would solve the profitability problem."

Uh, what? How? You seem to be saying either 1) merged companies owned by moguls will somehow, perhaps by magic, be profitable or 2) moguls don't care about profits. Both are false.
Feb 19, 2009
Scott, I told you way back when you launched DilbertFiles.com that you needed micropayments to differentiate yourself from the many other services out there. Develop a way to do it successfully and sell it to the rest of these folks who need it. Make it happen. I see other comments about TV and all of that - but apparently those folks don't realize that TV is being killed by the internet too and the Tivo effect (time shifting and commercial avoidance) is killing the revenue that TV pulls in from ads while the viewership continues to migrate to online solutions.

Indeed, micropayments has long been the only viable solution - and now Time confirms that I wasn't as loony as you thought when I invited DilbertFiles to use them.
Feb 19, 2009
Trying to educate you is often a futile and frustrating experience. Once again, you disparage the free market and, at the same time, propagate the myth that the current mainstream media is somehow completely fair and unbiased. Not to mention you jump down the throats of "moguls" and completely ignore the unmatched power of the government.

The reason the "media" is having trouble (and it is - even the New York Times is near bankruptcy) is quite simple: the people don't trust them any more, and are no longer watching or reading them. Most of the information they provide is available either free (over the airwaves) or available via their own websites for free. And they're still going down in revenue and profitability. It's not because of the news consumer - that person doesn't pay directly for the news, with the exception of the (relatively small) amount they pay for a newspaper. It's going down because fewer people watch. Therefore, not as many companies are willing to pay for advertising, and those that are pay lower fees because their message reaches fewer people.

The number one highest-growth news network is Fox News. The reason is simple: first, they have interesting programs. Second, they are much more unbiased than the mainstream talking heads. Liberals will scream that they're right-leaning, and they are - in their talk and opinion programs, but not in their news reporting.

My daughter was recently out visiting me. She had never watched Fox News before, because she is liberal and she had bought in to all the scare-mongering from the left about the evil, right-wing nutcases on Fox News. She watched it for one evening, and then made the comment, "I can't believe how fair and unbiased their reporting is!" You can't buy that kind of education in school.

So if you want something to really be afraid of, then watch out for the so-called "fairness doctrine," which has as its goal suppressing free speech that disagrees with the government's (and mainstream media's) position. The first amendment was written to protect political speech, because the founders realized that allowing even the most wild, biased speech was far superior to allowing the government to decide which speech was allowable. That's about to go away, and with it, one of our final checks against government.

Anyway, another effort in futility as far as getting you to consider another point of view, Scott. But maybe some of the others here will be introduced to some new concepts and open their minds a little more. Perspective is everything, and you can't have it unless both sides of an issue is presented. You're welcome.
Feb 19, 2009
I think this argument relies on the false premise that (before the Internet, or independent of it) the news media was healthy and fulfilling the service of educating the masses. "traditional" media has been run for profit for since at least the mid-80's, where news rooms began cutting staff and investigators. Things have just gone downhill since then.

I agree that you do need an informed/educated public for a democracy to function. I disagree the news media was providing that service.
Feb 19, 2009
I apologize that my previous comment has a long URL that this website thinks contains a bad word. If you're interested int the whole article, go to techdirt.com and check out the entry for 2/6/09, "Micropayments For News Represent A Huge Opportunity... For The Smart News Org That Avoids Them"
Feb 19, 2009
This idea has been covered many times on the Techdirt blog ( http://www.techdirt.com/blog.php?tag=journalism ). The solution is for media companies to figure out ways of adding value that makes users want to pay for content. Micropayments are the media's desperate way of forcing consumers to pay instead of making them want to pay (see !$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$ ). I think that there are enough intelligent people out there who can figure out a business model of making journalism profitable and not require taxation or a monopoly.
Feb 19, 2009
I think a lot of answers will revolve around "people will post news and analysis for free, because they want to" (i.e., the open-source model applied to news). Question is, when we're all doing stuff for free, how does anyone earn a living? 8-}
Feb 19, 2009
You forgot one important thing. In that bastion of democracy called the UK every household that has a TV has to pay a "TV License" and that funds the BBC. So we'll still have pesky BBC reporters running around the world finding out useful stuff and reporting it on BBC World etc. (OK not in Zimbabwe cos they are banned there) John Simpson still managed to sneak in though...

The USA is obviously doomed though - you're right about that. ;-)

Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog