Who wants news to be free? Not me. I want someone — consumers, advertisers, some rich guy who wants to feed his ego — to pay through the nose, and thus ensure lucrative employment for journalists present and future, especially my students.
So I was startled this morning when I read a commentary in the Boston Globe by Boston University journalism-department chairman Lou Ureneck in which he disparaged unnamed someones who apparently believe no one should pay for the news:
The “news wants to be free” contingent doesn’t understand how markets work, and its members aren’t relying on news-organization salaries to put food on their tables or their children through college. “Free” is an ideological position, not a sustainable system for the production of expensive journalism.
Who are these dastardly ideologues? Ureneck doesn’t say. And I would go so far as to add that there aren’t any — adjusting, of course, for the occasional fringe character channeling the voices coming to him through his tinfoil hat.
But Ureneck calls for online pay walls, and I suspect those of us who oppose such things are the target of his “news wants to be free” observation. The reality, though, is that we don’t oppose pay walls out of ideology. Rather, it’s that they would destroy the value of the sharing culture that defines the Web. More to the point, they wouldn’t work, because there would continue to be a host of free, good-enough alternatives.
I’m all in favor of news organizations — especially newspapers — doing anything they can to raise revenue: charging as much as the market will bear for the print edition; coming up with new, paid delivery platforms for e-readers, cellphones and the like; offering online extras for a fee; and, in the case of non-profits, pursuing grant money and user donations.
Does that make me a member of “the ‘news wants to be free’ contingent”? Obviously not. Moreover, I don’t think there is one.