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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

November 1, 2012 at 10:27 AM

Who pays for the news?

European news organizations want France, Germany and Italy to charge Google for using their content in search results. Quelle horreur!, cries Google. The freedom of the Internet will be compromised! But this is the default position of simplificateurs terribles.

The newspaper world has killed itself with many self-inflicted cuts. One of the worst was giving away news content for free. To be sure, subscribers historically paid for only a fraction of a newspaper’s revenues, but they did pay. Quality journalism isn’t free. It can’t be “crowd sourced” or produced by “citizen journalists” working for free, or even cheap youngsters. When I was a business editor, it took 10 years to create a seasoned, top-of-her-game business journalist.

No disrespect, but companies such as Google are thieves and parasites on the work of real journalists (and other content originators), profiting from it but not expecting to pay. The same is true for the hundreds (thousands?) of Web sites that either aggregate content or simply comment based on the serious journalism produced by real journalists. If all the newspapers shut down tomorrow, the Web would soon run out of real news to talk about. Meanwhile, outfits such as Google would quickly unchain the lawyers if anyone stole their proprietary information.

Sure, anybody can tweet a photo from lower Manhattan. But only paid, veteran journalists can dig deep to find the sources of the financial collapse, the crony capitalism that buys and pays for both parties, the secrets that government and big business want hidden, how vulnerable patients were moved from safer pain-control medication to methadone. Real journalism is essential to democracy, to keeping us from being a population of blathering morons knowing nothing but the latest celebrity gossip. If you trolls want to cry about me being self-serving, go right ahead — you’re another unique visitor.

I don’t have all the answers. But if I were king of the world, I would have set up iTunes-like systems at newspapers to charge users 99 cents for every page view and to make each comment (but, like iTunes, make it easy and almost invisible). It would hardly make up for the loss of print advertising, but it would have served as siege weapons against the likes of Google and a public perception that real news is produced by elves for free. (This is predicated on news organizations producing exclusive, sophisticated content, not one-source lunch-menu stories or he said/she said pablum).

“Talton your an idiot!” Thank you — 99 cents. Or, should I say, merci!

And Don’t Miss: It’s global warming, stupid || BusinessWeek

Today’s Econ Haiku (submitted by a reader:

NYC floods

Wall Street shuts down

While Americans bail

Comments | More in Google, Journalism


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