If we value good journalism, why don’t we pay for it online?by Joy Lo Dico / June 23, 2010 / Leave a comment
Rupert Murdoch and his team at the Times and the Sunday Times have laid down their challenge to consumers of information: if you value good journalism, pay for it. After a free trial period, access to both papers’ websites now costs £1 a day or £2 a week. I’m in the front of the queue to type in my Visa number, but I fear I’m almost alone. One might expect to see journalists’ and writers’ unions there, along with commentators and editors applauding a proprietor who places a value on their profession. Yet the reaction among these groups ranges from non-committal to outright hostile.
From bare breasts in the Sun, through the battle of Wapping and the launch of Sky TV, Rupert Murdoch has few friends in the labour movement or the liberal establishment. There are already claims that plans to bundle the Times paywall together with Sky subscriptions is the latest move in a campaign to undermine the BBC. But one should not confuse the idea of paying for content with distaste for one media mogul. Newspapers have suffered a decade of falling circulation and job losses. If Murdoch’s model works, it’s a solution for much of what ails the industry.
Yet the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) withholds support. Its vice president, Donnacha DeLong, rejects the idea that journalism is in a similar situation to the music industry when, a few years ago, musicians’ unions backed paid services such as iTunes over free file-sharing sites such as Napster. DeLong says journalists, unlike singers, are not paid for each piece of work, so such a model won’t necessarily benefit the NUJ’s members.
Commentators are hardly clamouring to praise Murdoch either. Nick Davies, who in his 2008 book Flat Earth News decried a culture of “churnalism”—a skeleton staff of news reporters rewriting press releases to fill their pages—thinks the paywall may be the ruination of the Times: “There is likely to be a huge migration to the Guardian and the BBC, and the Times will lose much of its advertising.” He believes that other cross-subsidy models are a better bet.
It’s not just economics that Murdoch is battling, but also the wider web ethos of “free”: the idea that the internet should be an Eden where knowledge can be exchanged without a price attached. It has vocal champions among journalists. Former New Yorker and Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown, who…