Sunday, December 6, 2009

Should news be free?

Arianna Huffington offers a long defense of new media (actually it's an attack on old media attacks on new media) in which she poses arguments that aggregators are doing news sites a service.

There's a lot of thought and good points in the article from the Chicago Tribune, along with some fuzzy thinking and deceptive numbers (for example: "Did you know newspaper advertising fell nearly 19 percent this year while Web advertising is up 9 percent and mobile advertising is up 18 percent?" Probably true, but using percentages hides the fact that the bases are so dissimilar, which means that the money lost is newspaper advertising is a heckavua lot more than the money gained in web advertising).

A big part of her problem, as is much of what I read about this situation, is due to differing definitions of "news." Huffington says, and I agree, that charging for "news" won't work since there are many free sites. But are columns news? Analysis pieces? The Journal Sentinel's "Packers Plus?" For example, if I ran a "news site," I'd charge for all the extras -- those things that just can't be found everywhere. For example, I enjoy reading Bill Simmons on sports or Andrew Sullivan on culture or Frank Rich on our society. Why should everything they write be free? Should everything Bob McGinn writes on the Packers be free? I don't think so. I strongly suspect Huffington was paid for writing her piece -- and she should have been.

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