David Cohn — Spot.us founder, nice guy — is always a level-headed thinker when it comes to the eternal debate over What To Do About The Newspapers. A recent post is no exception.
The problem, as news pros like the Times’ David Carr see it, is not the internet. It’s the irreversible expectation that news should be free.
But David retorts:
I don’t take sides in the old media vs. new media debate. I think we have LOTS to lose if newspapers go under. But I also think there is an inflated sense of self-worth in this article. Not because I believe citizen journalism can fully replace traditional newsrooms – but because of what the world has gained by making news content free online.
Yes – putting content online for free has caused economic problems for newspapers – but it has made mankind better.
The loss of newspapers around the country is often discussed through a kind of meta-narrative, in which the practitioners bemoan the downfall of their own industry. While it’s truly upsetting to see newspapers — along with thousands of jobs — go belly up, we rarely hear about the increasing cultural impact of journalism, and how the public’s access to it has increased by an order of magnitude in the last ten years.
Every few days I’m reminded of Clay Shirky’s post in Boing Boing from last year, in which he “called bullshit” on Ron Rosenbaum’s complaint that online journalism came up out of nowhere and decapitated the traditional journalism business.
So I’m calling bullshit on the Rosenbaum thesis, because no one has been “caught up in this great upheaval.” Caught up? That makes it sound like a tornado. This change has been more like seeing oncoming glaciers ten miles off, and then deciding not to move.
Yes, it’s terrible that the owners and shareholders of our journalistic institutions have no choice but to lay off and close down. But they saw this coming. Why, after years and years of warnings and of watching the internet gain cultural preeminence over virtually every other medium, did they continually turn a blind eye to it?
And why did they not realize that it’s not the medium of the newspaper that we care about, but the democratic necessity of an honest and fair press?
I suspect a little thing called a “profit motive” got in the way. Now that reality has set in, maybe we can finally get to the task of saving journalism.