If Newspapers Claim They're Serving The Public… Why Are They Working So Hard To Limit Who Sees The Content?

from the questions-that-matter dept

One of the common refrains from folks in the newspaper industry is that, despite their inability to react to the changing market in front of them, they need to be kept alive, because of their civic duty of serving the public and preserving democracy. At least that’s how the argument goes. However, Steve Yelvington points us to a good point made by Rick Edmonds, noting that if it’s so important for the newspapers to serve the public, doesn’t it make it much harder for them to do that behind a paywall. In other words, in their zeal to lock up the content, they’re proving that they don’t mean what they say when they talk about just serving the public. They really only mean that they’re serving the segment of the public willing to pay — which doesn’t quite have that same noble civic duty feel to it, now does it?

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Comments on “If Newspapers Claim They're Serving The Public… Why Are They Working So Hard To Limit Who Sees The Content?”

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Tommy (user link) says:

The fatal flaw

There is a fatal flaw in Rick Esmond’s reasoning: If the newspapers all go bankrupt, then they can serve neither the public nor the employees of the papers.

Is it just because some people think information should be free? For example, a police department is also there to serve the public. But we can’t just call 911 for our every whim. We can’t have a police officer in every home.

Likewise, we can’t say that just because people demand the news, then the news should be free.

technomage (profile) says:

Re: The fatal flaw

Information has always been free, it has only been relatively recently that people wanted to charge for it. You cannot tax or charge for “word-of-mouth” news, which we still get on an almost daily basis.
Also, yes you can call 911 for every whim, as long as it is an emergency. You can call the local police non-emergency number for anything else. They do have a civic duty to “serve and protect”.

In the world wide web, I am more apt to listen to the town criers that actually tell the news, then the ones that cry “pay me first for the news”.

BobinBaltimore (profile) says:

Re: Re: The fatal flaw

Agree that information is free, but news – information which is analyzed, fact-checked (hopefully), digested and set in decent prose – is not free and hasn’t been for centuries. The subscription model without advertising goes back quite a ways in a Euro-American culture (honestly can’t speak for other areas of the globe). The subscription-supplemented advertising-based approach for new is a couple of hundred years old as well. Prior to the internet, telegraph and telex-based news was subscription only. And, of course, radio and television news (not the subject here, but someone will invariably bring it up) is advertising-supported, which costs consumer time and annoyance. The new distribution path available for news in the last 15 years – the internet – definitely changes the equation, but it doesn’t mean that news has been “free” until recently. And word of mouth “news” at least in my opinion is another matter altogether, and doesn’t represent a business proposition…just the human culture of gossip and chit-chat.

The distinction between information and news doesn’t change the stupidity of attempts to collude or get an anti-trust exemption, but it is an important distinction.

CommonSense (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The fatal flaw

“And, of course, radio and television news (not the subject here, but someone will invariably bring it up) is advertising-supported, which costs consumer time and annoyance.”

Internet news is also supported by advertising, and consumers aren’t running away screaming “I’d rather pay $10 a month than see these ads!!” So essentially, they’re trying to tell news companies that ads throughout their news is a fair price to pay. Of course, some will do it more gracefully than others, and they’ll win the crowd, but that’s how it works out here in the real world.

BobinBaltimore (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The fatal flaw

I don’t disagree. But online advertising pays very few bills.

I would like to see a few examples of “internet news” that you refer to. Wholly original reporting (not gossip, not opinionism, not content aggregation) that is supported solely by online advertising. Can’t think of any off the top of my head, but my mind is open to be educated.

Many sites that offer news free (Reuters, FoxNews, CNN) have either mammoth media companies or subscription models supporting them on the back-end, as well as many other complementary businesses in their portfolio. So saying the production of the news content, and distribution via internet is, “supported by advertising” is probably disingenuous. Online advertising is a drop in the bucket relative to the cost of that content creation…they are propped up by other means.

Call me Al says:

I have no objection to the papers trying to charge for money. I just won’t pay for it and will go and read something else. There is enough free news now that you need never pay for it again unless you choose to. They can’t force you to pay.

My objection is to those who try to artificially rig the marketplace to maintain their old, and largely outdated, business models. Their claims that they are serving the public only serve as propaganda to try and glean support for their attempts to regain control of the news through somewhat dubious means.

I can’t blame them for trying but I don’t have to like it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Yes they can

Newspaper CAN and WILL force you to pay. Maybe not directly but through government grants/bailouts you will pay via your taxes.
Or Like the RIAA assume you are an information thief and tax your internet connection, power, water, food supply so they can recover the revenue you are stealing from them.

weneedhelp (profile) says:

civic duty of serving the public

Blahhhhhhh ha ha ha ha!!!!! What a joke. The reason I abandoned the MSM as because of the biased yellow journalism. Civic duty? What a joke. Sorry but the collective analysis of thousands with no majority stake in anything, as compared to the “journalist” that work for the big companies who are owned by the likes of Rupert Murdoch, you cant compare them, the internet wins hands down. I can view all sides and form my own opinion.
I say again Civic duty? What a joke:

An Amused Media Person says:

A Job's A Job

It’s so great how you guys all shriek about H1B Visa holders coming over here to replace you at your $80-$160k jobs, at the same time you complain about the people – who, on average, make 1/4->1/3 as much – so many of you are trying to replace (for nothing more than ego’s sake!) when we fight back.

And if you want to complain that papers aren’t doing their jobs, well, take a look in the mirror and ask yourselves what industry became the best friend to corporate boards, when it started writing software and manufacturing machines to eliminate jobs and independent thought on the bottom rungs of the print and broadcast industries.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: A Job's A Job

Funny, you don’t sound amused. You sound angry & afraid. Your job isn’t threatened because of technology, but I understand why you need a scapegoat. Your job isn’t being eliminated because of technology.

Your job is being eliminated because your employers decided to stop producing actual journalism over the last few decades, and because your employers are refusing to adapt to changing times now.

It’s not our fault. It’s your boss’s fault. And yours if you stay with their sinking ship.

(I’m not sure what H1B has to do with anything, but not all of “us guys” get hysterical about it, you know.)

melinda (profile) says:


Serving the public is what you can call it if the public wants to be involved. Newspapers are for profit, like any business they are struggling to stay open. If the area newspapers are willing to print family pictures (sports, newborns, weddings, etc) at no charge “for the public”, than why wouldn’t they want to contribute (paying for the paper or buying advertisement)towards the cost of operations.

Makes no sense to me why this comment was even posted. The facts are that newspapers still are the number one source of information. (do your own research)

Every day, half of all US adults read a local/daily newspaper. Readers value their papers because they’re portable, convenient, and offer highly valued information.

Nevertheless, online is not killing the newspaper world. Online news just don’t have the resources to post the close net news that a local newspaper can publish. (don’t forget, I wouldn’t see my child or wedding annoucements online. If it were I would have most likely PAID for it.)

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL COMMUNITY NEWSPAPERS, it’s the right thing to do to keep this world together.

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