The free flow of information “is as vital to the healthy functioning of communities as clean air, safe streets, good schools and public health.” That’s what the Knight Commission on Information Needs of a Democracy concluded in their report on Sustaining Democracy in a Digital Age. The 145 page report urges the nation to making sure all Americans have broadband access just as the emphasized ground transportation in building an interstate highway system a half-century ago.
The commission also examined issued the media is facing recommending:
Direct media policy toward innovation, competition, and support for business models that provide marketplace incentives for quality journalism.
Increase the role of higher education,community and nonprofit institutions as hubs of journalistic activity and other information-sharing for local communities.
Another side of this whole paid content debate is the concept that Google is stealing the newspapers content and is evil. Pretty much anyone who is out there advocating a pay wall for newspapers stories is also a proponent of keeping Google away from their content. The funny thing is the opposite is true. If you want more traffic on your web site and more people reading your news stories, then Google is your friend. Google probably sends more traffic to your news site than any other source.
The Guardian has an interesting look at this debate pitting the NY Times Maureen Dowd against Jeff Jarvis examining whether Google is friend or foe.
Dowd says Google has hijacked journalism. “Google is in a battle royal over whether it has the right to profit so profligately from content at a time when journalism is in such jeopardy. Robert Thomson, the editor of the Wall Street Journal, denounced websites like Google as “tapeworms”.”
Jarvis on the other hand has faced the facts. “I had been naively thinking – hoping – that there would be an orderly transfer of power, print to digital, and that many of the incumbents would survive and some might lead the transition. With some exceptions, I no longer believe that.”
Mitch (see comment) sent me a Business Week article this week about the latest attempt to charge for online content fostered by Steven Brill. He’s proposing creating a consortium of a lot of different content providers that the reader would pay a subscription fee to access the content. I really don’t believe charging for online content will work in most circumstances, because readers will seek out the free content somewhere else and in most cases advertising models on free content will generate more revenue than subscriptions because of the higher traffic generated on the free content models.
But besides what I think, there’s a lot of buzz around . Here’s a couple of analysis of Brill’s model that makes sense to me.
Paid content will not save newspapers. Despite what many old journalism hands have said (including pay wall poster child Little Rock’s own Walter Hussman). Paid content limits your audience size and audience growth eventually flattens out. Here’s what the former head of NYTimes.com has to say about paid content…