The agonising over the place of proper journalism in this digital age is, to us, the trashing of a superceded technology against that dying of the light. There’s nothing uncommon about this action of course. The question is whether we give in as with the man with the red flag in front of the motor car or not. Or more, with the demand that the people who make steering wheels must compensate those who make buggy whips. Both are means of directing transport, one is the new, the other the old, technology. And that is the demand, that the digital companies should pay for the old journalism ones.
This is a demand that should be rejected:
The head of a Government inquiry into the funding of high-quality journalism has travelled to the United States to gather evidence from tech giants and major newspapers.
Dame Frances Cairncross, an economist and former journalist, is this week on a fact-finding mission to both coasts as she prepares a report on financial pressures faced by publishers and newsrooms as a result of the online revolution.
An obvious point to be made. If the public desires or demands high quality journalism then some method will be found of getting the public to pay for high quality journalism. If the desire to pay doesn’t exist - in any form, through advertising, time, donations, subscriptions and the rest - then there isn’t that demand for that product, is there?
In near every other area of life we do just shrug and accept that some purveyors of whatever go out of business as new methods of sating desires arrive. The political problem we’ve got with this “high quality” journalism is that those who currently provide it, well, they currently dominate that public agenda precisely because they are the current suppliers. And boy aren’t they worried about that end to a comfortable life.
We should - must - reject these demands for subsidy. The basic contention is that the value received by the reading public from this high quality journalism is less than the cost of producing it. That’s why a new source of revenue must be found. That is, the entire process is value subtracting, it makes us poorer. So, obviously enough, we should stop doing it.
If it does add value then people will pay for it. So there’s no problem, is there?
We would point out that several of us produce incomes by doing this freelance journalism stuff. There’s no shortage of outlets, of places to say something. It costs spit to set up your own these days too. Thus we cannot say that there’s a shortage of supply of the thing being complained about. Rather, a threat to the current structures of doing that supply is what is really being worried about. And why on earth should we worry about who is supplying as long as there is supply sufficient for the demand?