If information wants to be free, who’s still going to pay for journalism?

And on a related note, even the sainted Robert Peston is convinced the big newspapers are going to return to subscription models for their websites… The Mother Jones website in the US reckons that whilst information may want to be free, it actually comes at a price (and please note that neither Gav, nor the Dept of Finance are charging)… However as MediaShift has famously noted that journalism will find a way to outlive its dying institutions… (H/T to Jay Rosen’s incredible stream of consciousness for those last two)… If you want to hear more questions (rather than answers) in this debate, download Peter Day’s excellent In Business report from a few days back…

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  • dunreavynomore

    “If information wants to be free…”
    If that is the best heading a journalist can come up with then god help information and journalism.
    Information doesn’t give a damn whether it’s free or not, it’s people who care and if writing standards in journalism decline much more then the information they offer will be even more suspect than it is at present.

  • Eddie


    You complain about “people who care about writing standards.”

    But I can’t make sense of your own second paragraph. “The information THEY offer” Who are “they”? And offer to whom?

    Get my point about writing standards?

  • alan56

    Always a difficult subject to take seriously on here where many consider themselves journalists, writers or commentators. Its like who is the smartest, who is coolest, who can be most incisive or who has the inside track. Boring.
    Thouught one of the most important jobs of the journalist was to deliver factual information…

  • dunreavynomore

    Indeed, Eddie, but I don’t purport to be a journalist, I’m just a simple soul sitting at home wondering where you found the quote “people who care about writing standards.” What I actually wrote was “Information doesn’t give a damn whether it’s free or not, it’s people who care”,the “people” caring whether information is free or not. The “they” of course, are journalists and the “whom” are those who may read the journalistic offerings. I think it’s clear in my piece but ” If information wants to be free…” coming from a journalist, a person who is paid to use words, is still nonsense.

  • Mick

    When some of the main newspaper sites tried this in the past, did any of them make a go of it, I understand Murdoch claims his newly acquired US financial paper is in profit, [one would have thought it is a bit early to claim that?] But surely this business method was tried in the past and found wanting.

    No wonder Murdoch’s son has been over here with all guns blazing at the BBC. Talk about like father like son, there is nothing this family will not do to gain advantage for themselves; and this includes crashing one of the most worthwhile British institutions.

    One can imagine the type of conversations the Murdoch’s are having with Cameron in the run in to the UK election.

  • willis

    Surely one reason why Newspapers have been subjected to lighter touch regulation than broadcasters is that if the readers do not like what they are being offered they can always stop buying.

    The readers and advertisers have stopped buying. The newspapers have only themselves to blame.

    How many of them were running campaigns to tighten up Global Banking regulations?

    Thought not.

  • Mick Fealty

    WSJ and the FT have both been racking up a healthy profit for years. But they are selling level information to wealthy segment.

    Murdoch clearly wants to do the same with his other offerings. Personally I can’t see it with the likes of the Sun… There’s nothing of much value for an online reader in there…

    Maybe some parts of the Times, on the back of Danny Fink’s work… But they have a lot of work to do to get it to a market, that’s willing to pay.

    I guess Murdoch is hoping if they all jump at once, then the rest of us are stuffed. But I suspect it will be them that misses us, not the other way round.

    Considering his only benefit centre in the UK is now a monopoly on Satellite, James’ speech the other day felt to me like slightly desperate.

    As for information’s behaviour. It’s not just another ‘pathetic fallacy’. When I put this on Twitter I got hammered from the other side, by one guy who seems to think journalism’s gone… finished… kaput… It’s not about a professional class any more it… it’s about networks…

    Intermediation is dead…

    I’m not sure I go that far, but it’s point worth baring in mind…

  • Mick,

    In my view journalism will never be dead, because human beings like to ‘believe’ they are in the know, and simple love gossip, no matter how much we all deny it. Whether it is about politics, sport, culture, the arts or just tit tat, there will always be a market for it.

    The problem with many of the newspaper/media outlets, is over the last decade or so they have taken on far to much unnecessary debt, Murdoch/ITV are examples of this and the former started the ball rolling. It is a miracle how he has managed to keep the show on the road, that he has, is probably yet another example of greedy and gullible bankers.

  • Pigeon Toes

    No such thing as “free” information, its all dependent on the buck wot pays em

  • I should have added to the last sentence on post 8, “and pliable politicians and a general public who will put up with any old crap.”

  • willis

    Peter Preston appears to cover the waterfront this week.


    Some mis-steps, some course corrections? No shame attached there. Mr Murdoch has changed his mind three times already, and will change it again. The New York Times has charged for news content, not charged, then come back to ponder charging afresh. The US consortium of chargers Mr M is trying to muster behind a pay wall include his foes and most despised print rivals. Needs must when the devil of economic destruction drives.

  • The Spectator

    It rather seems to me that the Murdochs view information as something that can be owned, and therefore sold on at profit in chunks of exclusivity. Rather like exclusivity over sports programming, or American drama television rights.

    But there is no copyright in facts, only in news production. Mr Murdoch Jr in particular seems to have forgotten what the word Media actually means. Media does not mean infomration, and owning media does not mean ownng infomration – indeed, perish the thought.

    Gerry Robinson in the Irish Times a few days ago was interesting in terms of an avowed capitalist who still belives certain areas are simply not amenable purely to the profit motive (in his view transport infrastructure is a key one, and health services). He is highly, highly favourable to the market (he has no time for the invest ni’s of the world for example) but he is not slavish to it.

    To him, the market is simply the best way, more often than not, to achieve desirable goals – it is not, however, the desirable goal itself.

    Where something inherent in the desirable goal is at conflict with “the Market” – say putting values on things like National Security, law and order, sovereignty or long term national viability above the value of having a market – he chooses the goal, and the market can go jump.

    I have to say I find the concept attractive. The argument is simply which goals do we accept are more important than profit – Justice, definatly (so we have state sponsored legal provision in extremis), health care, not sure – NHS v HSE v Medicare vs Somalia, democratic process, ytes (no one wants to put the voting system out to private tender, do they?).

    Personally I am tempted somewhat to put the distribution of imformation in that category – I can see an argumetnagainst EastEnders – I can see little argument against Newsnight.

    I personally fear for the day the British public value Murdoch’s profit over news quality. When that day arrives (and it clearly has not yet), the people will deserve what’s coming to them.

  • Spectator

    Without wishing to side track the thread, it is absolutely essential when possible to have a healthy population, history and the current situation in the USA and elsewhere proves this is not attainable without an NHS type health care system.

    I feel these days even most of us on the left have concluded the best road is the mixed economy. I read somewhere over the weekend the suggestion that due to many local newspapers having closed down, the BBC should extend its news gathering at a local level.

    It should then offer this local news [local council reports, etc, sport, courts, whatever] via its web site to all who wish to use it. Thus hopefully this would encourage new startups to replace the local media closures.

  • The Spectator


    I don’t want to go too much down a tangent, or start waving a legal theory sabre around the place, but I can’t emphasise enough the issue of exclusivity.

    It’s the very heart of property, and thus the very heart of contract, and thus the very heart of commerce and the Market economy. Without exclusivity – the power to deny s’one the use of something, and enforce that denial – all else falls away.

    It’s what “All property is theft” actually means – we take what was not exclusive and we make it exclusive.

    The market is particularly good at efficient distributon of exclusivity (except where monopolies occur, but that’s a different rant)

    To give primacy to the market is, in the final analysis, to give primacy to a right of exclusivity over certain material goods – i.e. to deny access to that good to s’one.

    through that prism, I think it becomes more clear what we are willing to allow the amrket to distribute, and what we think should never be exclusive.

    for example. I don’t mind Ormo bread being exclusive; i.e.I’m content there’s enough bread out there, and enough competition among bread suppliers to ensure efficiency. I don’t see any need for a National Bread Service (not in these times anyway).

    I mind slightly the exclusivity that say Sky or Setanta can enforce over my TV football watching – there is a lack of competition on the supplier side, sure, but I can’t very well shop around for football teams to support, though if I was a ‘rational consumer’ that’s exactly what the Market tells me to do.

    But in the big scheme of things, there’s plenty of more importnat things, so fair enough, the Market wins. (Though imagine if we actually had real competition with different channels showing the same game -w ould that not drive down cost? Improve efficiency)

    So what the state provides, either as a sole monopoly (justice system, national security), or in competition with the private sector (health care, legal services) is simply indicative of the values we espouse.

    Personally, I’m rather happy to have news and information in the second (State non-monopoly provision) section. I simply don’t really like the idea of murdoch having either a monopoly on provision (which he’d like), or trying to provide exclusivity of consumption (which he’d like even more).

  • willis
  • The Spectator


    Thank you for that, but while the bakery may well be Ormeau, I think you’ll find the bread is Ormo.