For the last few days, I’ve been heartily engaged in the comments section of a couple CJR items that originated from the New Orleans Times–Picayune‘s travails. I advocate for the industry-wide adoption of online pay walls to sustain high-end journalism. Others regard this as a disastrous suggestion.
As the comments began to pile up, I saw some insight and a lot of argumentative fallacy. People do love to call names.
But I kept at it, hoping to draw others into the fray. Maybe even get CJR to use their publication to revisit at this moment the idea of news as a product and whether that product can — in any environment, and under any conditions, not merely today’s dystopic newspaper dynamic — command a price commensurate with its cost, or much of its cost (residual advertising revenue still being present both on- and offline). The New York Times just reported that Wall Street analysts are saying subscription revenue from the paywall adopted by the NYT will turn the paper back into the black in 2014. If that’s true, this moment might be a critical one for the rest of the industry to reassess.
I think the health, stability and professionalism of our newsgathering goes to the heart of what kind of a country we are going to be in twenty years. And yes, I am worried.
So far, some smart comments and a good deal of self-reference, and, of course, some stuff that veers off-point. But if you came here to this blog because of any of the writing or arguments about newsgathering and what it means, and you have firm opinions — especially if you are in the industry or a recent refugee — I’d urge you to get in there and keep it going.
A lot of arguments aren’t worth the time or the trouble. And I say that as a man with some affection for an argument. But this one, I think, is long overdue.
Again, the back and forth is down in the comments section of both posts. Have at it. Because I can’t think of any problem that I would more like to see solved and solved quickly. If professional, high-end journalism survives as a counter to the institutional imperative in this country and around the world, I’ll be as happy to be proven wrong as right. I think an industry-wide pay wall and the bundling of international, national, state and local news product is an inevitability, as television entertainment under the cable model has now proven itself a successful inevitability. But if I am wrong, then great. In so much as my worries are either unfounded, or some other online model will generate enough revenue to keep journalism a career for trained, ethical professionals and main the institutional gravitas of newsrooms, I would happily accept an alternative future. It’s the present, though, that is unsustainable. For a functional republic, anyway.