You already realize I’m a bit of a science geek. But you may not know I’m also a history geek — not insufferably so, but I’m looking beyond what I thought I knew to find new insights. On my bedside table, along with my fiction books and books on how to not be a crappy parent, there usually sits something by Joseph Ellis or someone equally readable.
I tell you this as context for when I say that, even for me, the piece in the January 26th issue of the New Yorker, Back Issues: The Day the Newspaper Died, is a bit of a slog (See: Does Google Make Us Stupid? Let Me Count the Ways). But it’s worth at least zooming through for the parallels between newspapers as our founders envisioned them in the First Amendment — as opposed to our new vs. old media whinging today.
The piece essentially begs the question: what’s the value of having an organized free press, with reach and access, to really go after our government?
Some of the value can be seen in the lengths a government would go to avoid that free press. In the New Yorker story, we’re reminded that President John Adams tried to have his critics arrested for treason with the Alien and Sedition Acts — which he also helped create and pass. I doubt he would have outlawed a TechCrunch, or a small paper writing about the local 4H results — both evolving and thriving aspects of our current media landscape, I’d venture. But a John Adams, today — would he outlaw the New York Times or Washington Post for breaking the story of Guantanamo, or the White House emails? To quote one potential White House resident, you betcha.
Here’s how it would work: As you browse FT.com, you have a small status bar at the bottom of your screen, akin to the “life bar” in first-person shooter games that shows you how healthy or injured your character is. In this case, the status bar shows you how many free page views you have left.
Now here’s the fun part: If you want to exceed your quota but you don’t want to pay, there are other ways. In video games, you can usually replenish your life bar by collecting floating gold coins or stars or mushrooms or what have you; why not do the same on a newspaper site?
If the past is a guide, there will come a time when these behemoths essentially are monopolies, and society will rise up in protest, to the relief and, usually, the benefit of everyone except them…
There are a lot of ideas circulating for saving the news business…but getting Google (and its smaller competitors) to share revenue with creators of content would be a money stream that essentially does not now exist.
Media isn’t broken, to paraphrase a comment I recently saw on Chris Brogan’s blog — it’s just not fixed yet. Just because we haven’t imagined the next form it’s going to take, doesn’t mean it’s “dead,” or that new or old journalists must prostitute themselves with “content marketing” in some form (not that there’s anything evil about that, but blurry lines don’t help anyone).