It's the Same With Newspapers as With Horses and Dogs ...

... Nothing wants to die.

OK, so I stole most of that from Tom Waits.

Still, the recent TIME magazine cover story on ways to save your newspaper got me thinking. Below is a post I submitted on Facebook as part of an ongoing thread among some fellow newspaper colleagues:

The Internet is the only place in existence where the price for everything is exactly nothing. And for anyone who has grown up online, the specter of paying for content--whether it be news, pictures, music, videos or porn--is anathema.

Apple, with iTunes, has shown that it is possible to break that psychological barrier, and in the process save an entire industry. But the problem is that a news article isn't as valuable a commodity to most young people as an MP3 is--you don't "reuse" old news hundreds of times in an iPod.

Besides, if you want a song badly enough, there are plenty of places to find it for $0.00.

I don't have the answer; the Internet's guiding principle is that information wants to be free. Good journalism cannot, however, continue to be free. It won't make money that way, but more importantly, it won't make an impression on those who at present can consume--or produce--their own news through any political or social prism they choose, through as many poorly sourced blogs as they like, precisely because it costs nothing to do so.

Legitimate, professional news outlets can either start charging for premium content and subscriptions, or do what Facebook essentially does--remain free for all users because you're subsidized by a wealthy few investors. The former option will be a difficult pill to swallow--at first. But people want, and need, news they can trust, and there's a chance they're willing to pay nominally for it. As for the latter option, well, just ask Facebook. At 150 million-plus members, this site is still trying to figure out how to turn a profit.

Of course, you have to make something to sell something, as all-too-many Web companies are finding out. So newspapers will need to make sure they are producing news worthy enough for purchase. You can expect pirates to steal it, and you can expect ideologues to balk at it. But you can't expect professionals to do work for free.

Original Facebook post: 2/10/2009

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