The New Journalistic Socialism?by Brad Warbiany
It’s no secret that dead-tree journalism has been on a significant slide lately. The product is faced with a dynamic new entrant to the market (the Internet), and it seems as if the “new media” is making the old obsolete.
In many industries, this would be a signal that it’s time to start finding newer and better ways to compete. A worthwhile journalist and the newspaper that employs those like him would find ways to distinguish themselves from the new competitors, and find a new (if different) niche that they could fill. The electric bulb didn’t put candle-makers out of business; they now litter our malls with franchises sporting aromatherapy jasmine candles on decorative saucers.
Competition is a difficult, uncertain process. For those of us in industries where it is fast-moving, like myself in the tech industry, it is that difficulty and the thrill of competing that keep us coming back for more. For some, though, the thrill of competition is to be feared. They’ve existed without it for so long that they’ve forgotten how to win. But they’ve found a better way — you don’t need to win when you have force on your side:
So the time is ripe for rethinking the First Amendment as a positive call for non-market support of a meaningful journalism.
It looks like we’re going through a painful transition from analogue to digital newspapers, from print to Internet. A comprehensive piece of legislation–let’s call it The News and Information for Democracy Act of 2011–could help lubricate the transition, determine whether there are common or collective approaches that would make the transition smoother, and possibly provide some transition support and supplement the working of “the market” with a sense of what the path should be from here to there.
Here’s an example: bring down the price of the Kindle or Sony Reader to under $25 and make the devices universal delivery systems for local and national papers; have each Kindle default-programmed to receive one of several competing national digital papers and one local paper, building in an annual fee for a newspaper fund that is billed to the holder of the low-cost or free apparatus.
I’ll admit — for the current crop of journalists, the advent of web-based reporting with an uncertain income stream certainly makes for a pretty scary time. That doesn’t justify socialism, though, any more than it justifies the candle-makers’ petition to block out the sun.
Yes, the business of journalism is changing. That may mean that it won’t support the numbers of journalists currently in the world. In a world where writers can reach an international audience with the stroke of a key, there may not be room for duplication of effort. But as long as there’s news, there will be a need for journalists, and as long as there’s readers, there will be an income stream (whether through paid subscription or advertising). The current business models are certainly not going to survive intact, but very few business models last anywhere near as long as that which has supported journalism.
It may mean that the business gets smaller, leaner, and more competitive. It may mean that it becomes much more highly specialized, or more local. It could mean — with the expansion of current “citizen journalism” — that journalism becomes more distributed and the way to earn a living is to be, like Glenn Reynolds, an aggregator which exists purely to separate the wheat from the chaff. It may mean any of these things, or countless others I haven’t even considered. It doesn’t mean, however, that you can simply replace my tax dollars with my subscription dollars and call it a wash.
Hat Tip: Reason Hit & Run