Friday, August 24, 2012

If You Love Your Country, Pay For Content

As newspapers struggle to find a financial model to replace display and classified ads, they've had to cut editorial staffs to the bone. Some stories aren't getting covered as well as before or covered at all. Believing the prevailing digital ethos, readers think they're entitled to get the news for free, as though good reporting sprang immaculately from Google's servers or gifted journalists would get themselves trained and then risk their lives in Kabul strictly as volunteers. It's also the fault of publishers failing to anticipate the change and of the old model itself, where revenue from department store ads was used to underwrite coverage of city hall, the Supreme Court, and power shifts in Beijing.

Someday internet advertising may generate the same revenue that print did. Until then, the responsible reading citizen must learn to pay for the production of professional editorial content the same way she pays for dry cleaning, groceries, and legal advice. Without trained reporters and editors, we're guaranteed to suffer more abuses of power. Cable TV zealots and the Starbucks-based hackosphere will fill the vacuum left by facts with twice their weight in opinions. Our media will be deaf, blind, and insufferably loud.

One recent example of the indispensability of old-fashioned journalism. At 9 a.m. this morning in New York City, someone opened fire. I heard about it on the radio and checked Huffington Post, but there were few details. So I went to the New York Times on my iPhone (for which I gladly pay a monthly fee) and found this article, posted within four hours of the event. Written with precision and terse eloquence, it's a masterpiece of team reporting, an everyday example of the fine but dying art of good newspapering, painstaking and often dangerous work that no one will or should have to do for free:
[The suspect] lived on the third floor of a six-story walk-up on East 82nd Street for about 18 months, said Guillermo Suarez, 72, the super of the building.
Every morning he had the same routine. He would leave the apartment between 7:30 and 8 a.m., say good morning and head to the McDonald’s on Third Avenue and 84th Street.
After about 20 minutes, he would come back carrying a McDonald’s bag. He would nearly always wear the same thing — a tannish brown suit, sometimes with a tie. Then he would generally stay in the apartment the rest of the day.
He did the same thing on Friday morning, but this time he did not come back.
If you love your country, and if you really want to know what's going on in the world, pay for content.

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