Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Freedom of the Press Doesn't Mean Getting News for Free: Newspapers' Finances, the Blogosphere and the Need to Pay Reporters

The March 31 New Yorker (I know, I know, but I’m behind because I was so busy for a while) has a very interesting essay on the future of the newspaper. Eric Alterman details the financial woes of newspapers in a time of declining readership and economic downturn, and reflects on the idea that internet blogs may play in informing the people in the future.

This is an essay that merits reading more than once and then thinking about, because its implications for democratic society are great. But one thing jumps out at me: with few exceptions, much of the information being circulated on the Web comes from unpaid reporters. While it is all very well and good for people to spend great chunks of their lives keeping Wikipedia honest or following their city council or writing up their garden experiments, uncovering the truth is far too important to leave to amateurs. Some way must be found to compensate people who are willing to devote their lives to telling it like it is, which means first of all discovering what “it” is. The process of research and discovery is time-consuming, often difficult and sometimes dangerous--too much to ask of volunteers on a regular, boringly daily basis.

Not incidentally, I’m writing this as journalists at Le Monde, one of the world’s most respected newspapers, begin a strike to protest massive cuts proposed to the newsroom. The newspaper lost 20 million euros in 2007 and has accumulated debts of 150 million euros, according to The Guardian. Not a pleasant situation to be in, but one that may become increasingly common.

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