This week I had an interesting conversation with an older woman: she seemed to think it was perfectly acceptable to take a newspaper from a news stand without paying for it, and then put it back after she was done reading with it. She didn’t understand why she had to pay the $1.50, and even got a little testy when I pointed out newspapers was a business and was a commodity like anything else.
But, I have to admit, she does have a point. We almost never pay for our news.
People often whisper the news to each other. “Did you hear . . . ? “
“There was such a tragedy today at . . . “
We don’t pay for news when we hear it from our friends, our colleagues, so why should we pay for newspapers? We turn on the television and we watch a newscast, or we turn on the radio and And with the prevalence of the internet, where so much is free, why should we pay for a news story? People have come to expect information to be free. Wikipedia is a free online dictionary. Craig’s List is a free site (for the most part) to post ads. Where did this notion of free information come from? It most certainly came with the origin of the internet, which, in a simplified sense, is just the flow of ideas from one source to another.
This seems to beg the question what should be free and what should we pay for. If news isn’t paid for, then it isn’t collected and distributed by a centralized source. But maybe not having a centralized company distribute source isn’t such a bad thing. Academics often cry about media centralization. Maybe citizen journalism is the future. Maybe it is the answer to corporate bias. Maybe one day people will freely distribute news and pictures over Facebook and the occupation we call “journalist” will be extinct.
For those who make a living as writers it is a disparaging view of the future, for sure, and hopefully an inaccurate one, but one never knows.
A recent New York Times article said that the number of employed journalists was at a historic low. Simply put, there just isn’t that many journalist jobs out there. I suppose one shouldn’t be surprised– after all, almost every type of job, with the advance of technology is becoming increasingly downsized, especially in this tough economy. But it is doubtful journalists job will ever recover to the levels of the Watergate era.
It isn’t all doom and gloom, however.
Although newspapers aren’t doing very well these days, at least one on-line news source, The Huffington Post, seems to be succeeding and is even expanding its market, so journalism and newspapers, in their online reincarnated state, aren’t dead yet. The problem with The Huffington Post is it doesn’t tend to pay its contributors well–if at all — and so doesn’t attract the best writers or the best investigators.
So back to the old lady. Why pay for journalism? Because it betters our lives. Because it allows us to prosper in a democratic society with knowledge there are at least some safe guards in place to stop corruption, injustice and power-abuse, among other things.
So next time fork over that $1.50. It’s the best bargain you’ll ever get for your money. I promise.