Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
July 28, 200911:11 PM

Should News Be Free?

With all of the talk about the future of newspapers and journalism, comes a bigger question... should news be free?

If you've been following along at home, there has been all kinds of action in the news media space. Most recently, Google came out with a very interesting Blog post titled, Working with News Publishers, from their European Public Policy Blog. Many news outlets have a hard time understanding the power of Google. On one hand, these news outlets love the traffic that Google's search drives to their website, on the other hand, they worry that Google is keeping people away by showing different search results or revealing too much of the content from the source website. Google responds:

"Today, more than 25,000 news organizations across the globe make their content available in Google News and other web search engines. They do so because they want their work to be found and read - Google delivers more than a billion consumer visits to newspaper web sites each month. These visits offer the publishers a business opportunity, the chance to hook a reader with compelling content, to make money with advertisements or to offer online subscriptions. If at any point a web publisher feels as though we're not delivering value to them and wants us to stop indexing their content, they're able to do so quickly and effectively."

Can't have your cake and eat it to. The choice from Google is, "you either let us index your content and let it become more findable or make yourself invisible to our search engine with some very simple code."

Will people pay for their news? That's the bigger questions that news media outlets are asking. One of the most engaging essay pieces on the topic can be read here: Build the Wall. The piece appears on the Columbia Journalism Review and was written by TV producer David Simon (who created the The Wire and is currently working on a new show for HBO titled Treme), a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun. It's a long read with some very thoughtful comments. Simon thinks news outlets need to start charging for their content right now:

"Content matters. And you must find a way, in the brave new world of digitization, to make people pay for that content. If you do this, you still have a product and there is still an industry, a calling, and a career known as professional journalism. If you do not find a way to make people pay for your product, then you are--if you choose to remain in this line of work--delusional.

I know that content wants to be free on the Internet. I know that the horse was long ago shown the barn door and that, belatedly, the idea of creating a new revenue stream from online subscriptions seems daunting and dangerous. I know that commentary--the froth and foam of print journalism--sells itself cheaply and well on thousands of blogs. I know that the relationships between newspapers and online aggregators--not to mention The Associated Press and Reuters--will have to be revisited and revised. True, all true."

Does content really want to be free on the Internet? Will people start paying for the news online?

By Mitch Joel