I took a peculiar pleasure today in helping Rupert Murdoch turn The Times in to a club for grown-ups who acknowledge that free journalism online is unsustainable.
I paid my subscription fee with something like pride. I felt it was – in the spirit of Andrew Keen – time to separate amateur from professional content. I warm to the sheer courage of the Murdoch organisation in assuming that they can ensure their content is so good people will pay for it.
The internet should not spell the death of journalism. Worthwhile news should not be free because it takes time, effort and expertise to produce. I’ve long opposed the likes of Clay Shirky’s worship of all things free and his dismissal of the value of professional journalism. In his widely-acclaimed “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable”, he said:
“You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!” has never been much of a business model. So who covers all that news if some significant fraction of the currently employed newspaper people lose their jobs?
Well, now Rupert Murdoch is about to call Shirky’s bluff. Murdoch is set on proving that newspaper firms are in the business of satisfying otherwise unmet needs. That’s what Shirky does not get and it is why I parted with my money today. It is my view that pay-to-view will expose the online utopians such as Shirky as false prophets of doom, and soon.
By the way, I do accept that lots of what we call journalism is just copying out other people’s material, and lots of that material might just as well be posted online. I mean that firms, law courts, governments, local councils, charities, campaigners, militaries, sports events, and others will of course continue to develop techniques of providing information online for free. And I can imagine that there may be other ways of ensuring the truthfulness of such material than having journalists, or even PRs, assessing it before or whilst passing it on. And yes, I can imagine that wire services may increasingly become an important port of call by consumers.
In such a world, newspapers may struggle to make the case that they are indispensable. But I think also that in the new world where there is an extraordinary quantity of information, newspaper-like organisations will make a handsome living as trusted filters and verifiers and investigators and commentators.