Time to Pay, News Junkies

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Maybe you noticed when The Daily Californian stopped printing its Wednesday edition. Maybe you didn't.

Maybe you noticed that daily newspapers in the U.S. are all either filing bankruptcy, slashing staff or closing up altogether. Maybe you didn't notice because you were too busy Web surfing and reading good journalism for free. A lot of you probably think a newspaper is printed poster-size because you've only seen a few outside Moffitt.

San Francisco, a two-newspaper town until 2000, may very soon become a zero-newspaper town if Hearst shuts The Chronicle's doors. Many people are aware of the impending doom for print media, but few under the age of 30 care that much. Apologies to the 30 percent of you who actually do pick up a print copy of The New York Times or another paper in the morning, but circulation numbers are dismal with no hope for revival.

Advertising revenues, though, are the real reason that newspapers are no longer sustainable. Print advertising was in a slide through this entire decade, and the recession (when do we call it the Great or Pretty Great Depression?) only nailed the coffin shut. Online advertising has turned out to be a paltry sum, not enough to support multimillion-dollar newsrooms.

The hand-wringing among loyal (and, let's face it, older) readers has been considerable. The cries of outrage about the state of democracy in a reporter-less world are many. But those who do comb the Web for news and news analysis know this is bunk.

Good journalists won't all go away and become PR hacks, but their best stuff might never appear again on paper.

This is a business model problem, not a journalism problem. But who do you think is trying to innovate to save journalism from annihilation-that's right, journalists. Oh, and some of the more than 60 publishers who believe a model that worked in 1970 is bound to work in the 21st century.

We need some bright folks up at Haas to bestow some of their eminent wisdom on the industry. No, seriously, like THIS year. Without a way to monetize content, even the surviving Web sites won't be able to make a profit. Nor will they have the money to send those intrepid reporters to the far reaches of the globe where they might be needed.

So here's why I'm telling you all this, young Jedis: Get ready to pay. You heard me. There will come a day when you have to sign up for the EZ-Pass of Web content, and the first thing you'll do is bitch about it.

"I'm not paying for this shit!" is likely to be the first thing out of your mouth

But a few days later, once you realize that reading crappy blogs with repurposed content isn't going to cut it, you may come around.

I have to admit, I'm not going to like having another "utility bill" (that's how I'll think of it, anyway) in the monthly budget. But I'll suck it up, because I believe in good journalism. And if you think about it, we've been stealing newspapers for more than a decade. Whole stacks of them, Tom Bates-style.

I know, you all have some great rationalizations already lined up. "It's not stealing if it's on the Web, 'cause the Web should be about freedom, dude."

Trust me, it's stealing when you take something that cost somebody a lot of time and money to make. True, the newspapers put up a "Free" sign and patted you on the back as you stole their stuff, but that's not the point.

There's currently a panicked, fiery debate going on in the journalism world. Some think that newspapers should become nonprofits so they aren't beholden to shareholders' expectations. Some think that we just have to start charging more for online ads. Most are at a loss for what to do, which is why the only alternative has been draconian "austerity measures." That means a whole lot of journalists will be joining the 10 percent of Californians on the unemployment roll this year.

I believe that charging "per click" makes sense no matter where the link is clicked-say, 10 cents each time you read something, up to a maximum cap per month. Whatever the new model is, it has to happen before we lose thousands of good writers and editors to other professions.

We are a media junkie culture now-we want to be reading, listening or watching something at all hours of the day, in short bursts. If we have to pay a little to get our fix, then so be it.

Tags: COLUMN, JOSH GREEN


Increase Josh's circulation at [email protected]



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