Monday, June 29, 2009

Those poor, frightened journalists

It's a scary world we live in, as we watch the internet render one profession after another outdated. (I'm personally looking down the barrel of a 15% "temporary" pay cut.) And as professional journalists too late realize their jobs can be eliminated at any moment, they're all using their soapboxes, while they still have them, to desperately try to convince us that they're still valuable. (Apparently, complaining about blogs is easier work than investigating and reporting valuable news).

Today's loudest bleating came from Malcolm Gladwell, who decided to criticize Google's investment in Youtube and Chris Anderson's new book Free. Silly. Last time I checked, Google was raking it in. If they're willing to take a loss, for the time being on Youtube, then so be it. And Anderson's book simply states the obvious. We don't want to pay for things we can get for free, and thanks to the internet, we no longer have to pay for a bunch of the stuff we used to. So, if you want to make money selling something, whether it's information, music, or anything else, you're going to have to make sure it's valuable.

Professional reporters like Gladwell want to convince everyone that news gathering is somehow unique and should be protected. But there's nothing special about news gathering. There will be more news in the future. Not less. Every one of us will report on the news and share it with our smartphones and blogging platform of the day. The truly talented writers, or cleverest investigators, or most connected reporters will be able to support themselves as "professional" journalists, while the vast majority of English majors will find that their skill at rewriting canned stories from lobbyists is simply not very valuable.

Gladwell himself makes this point in his article, although he professes at least to not understand it. He writes:

And there’s plenty of other information out there that has chosen to run in the opposite direction from Free. Broadcast television—the original practitioner of Free—is struggling. But premium cable, with its stiff monthly charges for specialty content, is doing just fine.
Exactly. But HBO doesn't have subscribers because it charges. HBO has subscribers because it provides content that is so special people will pay for it.

People worried about protecting the "news" should focus their efforts on providing defamation protection for citizen journalists, whether through new laws or the creation of legal defense funds. After all, it's news reporting that needs protection, not newspapers.