I blogged recently about the sinking fortunes of American newspapers, which God knows have multiple flaws, always have had. It’s great fun to bash the big dailies, and the alternative papers in cities like Dallas, Miami, Washington, L. A. and other places have raked in the dough by positioning themselves as the Feisty Li’l Truthtellers vs. the Big Bloated Corporate-Friendly Mainstream Media Rags.
All that said, the prospect of losing the dailies is a classic ICAGWO (It Can Always Get Worse) scenario. To take just one example from Texas: To its credit, the highly flawed Dallas Morning News* has waged a long campaign for good causes like a regional transportation system, cleaner air, and more openness in state government, hammering away at the need for recording every vote in the Lege (they don’t do that down heah), so that, y’know, voters might actually see how their reps are voting on this n’ that. Without the big papers, there would be no other powerful voice to speak up against the lobbyists and the good ol’ boy system in Austin.
Don’t need to rehearse the familiar list of problems ailing the papers, chief of which is that more and more of us get “free” news from the Web and see little need to take a pulp-powered paper.
I’d consider myself kind of a transitional figure in the paper vs. Web fight. I’ve been a News subscriber my whole life and can’t imagine starting the day w/o the pulp packet and coffee. But during the workday, I always read big chunks of the NY Times, the Washington Post and others online. For free. The Times tried charging for some online content, but the venture flopped and they went back to giving it away.
Here’s where that long-awaited system of micropayments could help. I wouldn’t mind at all paying a reasonable small fee for access to these papers, but I don’t want to subscribe to the paper editions, most of which I’d never read. Why can’t they work out some arrangement whereby you pay a few bucks a month for access to 5 papers, 10 papers, etc.? If all the Big Dailies got together and did that, I think millions of people would chip in.
In addition, as a blogger I often rely on the work of these and other papers to ply my trade. Is it fair that I use their materials to build my house, but never pay a cent for the bricks and shingles?
Here’s another idea for paying the papers when we “repurpose” their content: Slap a tax on Google. Hmm.
*full disclosure: the News pays me literally dozens of dollars a year to review books.