By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Steve Brill, the journalist, educator and entrepreneur who founded Court TV and The American Lawyer and other lively ventures, has proposed that the New York Times, specifically, and newspapers in general ward off imminent death by (sound of light bulb clicking!) not giving away their content for free.
In a memo you can read on Jim Romenesko's site at www.poynter.org, and which I hope is one day as famous as "Common Sense" or "Uncle Tom's Cabin" for its salutary effect on our democracy, Brill says that he feels guilty, as a journalism teacher at Yale, when parents ask him, "Why are you luring my daughter into something that will never pay her loans?"
And so he's analyzed the news business and come to the conclusion that the Apple-iTunes model is our best, maybe only, hope. It's time to make online Times readers—and Washington Post and Denver Post and San Francisco Chronicle and Boston Globe and LA Times readers—support the guys and gals gathering the news, Brill says. With some persuasive math, he outlines a three-year plan by which the Times could make the transition to paid content. Print subscribers would continue to get online access for free, but the free-riding Internet crowd would have to kick in about 15 cents a day.
Brill predicts trouble from two quarters: the "parasites" that make money by commenting on, carrying or linking to Times content from their own websites, and the maniac webheads who will greet his plan with chants of "Content Deserves to Be Free."
To whom he answers, "Journalists' Children Deserve to Be Fed."
I am sick of going to newspaper wakes and farewell parties where we all sit around bemoaning the fact that the last generation of editors and publishers cut their own throats (and ours) by offering our work for free, to augment the print editions we all thought would last forever, while Google and Yahoo laughed and raked in the dough.
In the meantime, we taught the whole Napster generation to believe that they're entitled to the hard, good work of reporters like Robert Pear and Dexter Filkins, the analysis of Tom Friedman, the wit of Maureen Dowd, the Sunday book review, the great golf coverage, and all those artsy stories in the back sections that I never read but presume are important to you chic culture and fashion mavens.
Let's hope that it's not too late to do what the music industry did with iTunes, and the television industry is now doing with Netflix and Hulu.
This is capitalism, folks. Nothing worth something is free. A free press is worth 15 cents a day.