Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Media

I am pretty concerned about the latest report of a 10% decline in newspaper subscriptions. I do not believe bloggers, let alone twitterers, can effectively substitute for professional journalists, although they can add a mass of testimony and (usually nonexpert) commentary.

I have long thought that freedom of the press must ultimately entail no ownership of media by nonmedia companies--GE should not own NBC, for instance. Not because I think media companies somehow inherently good--Fox is owned by NewsCorp, an odious entity owned by an odious person, but a media-only and newspaper-focuses guy nonetheless. It's more on the principle that the army shouldn't own companies, because the army isn't that sort of thing, or that companies shouldn't run or own armies--armies aren't the sorts of things companies should own or run. (The fact that we use mercenaries widely I find to be one of the many, many candidates for most disheartening facts-cum-legacies of the Bush era.)

The problem is, I can't think of a business model that will really work. Of course, individual rich people or rich families can do it. The Binghams in Louisville had a media-only empire like Rupert Murdoch's, but they couldn't figure out how to keep it intact across generations, sold it (for a billion, give or take), and now all those media outlets have deteriorated. Both advertising and subscriptions have problems as funding mechanisms as well, and in any case, on the internet, no one will pay to subscribe, and advertisers are greed-motivated to violate privacy and much else.

If you go, like the Guardian Weekly and Economist, to subscriptions only, that's a high standard, but because it is, there will be few such outlets and many people won't pay for or thus see them. But there should be mass media--penny papers--and I suspect that the internet, ironically, is not a very reliable place for that.

So: how to save the journalists while a new business model is found?

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