Amy Gahran has produced a very articulate opinion piece in the continuing debate about the future of journalism. Responding to a question posted on the Public Journalism Network blog asking whether, if people aren’t prepared to pay for quality journalism, perhaps journalists should just stop writing, Gahran argues that the question contains a number of fallacies. She points out that it is advertisers, not consumers, who pay the lion’s share of journalist salaries.
She goes on to write: “(However,) just because people aren’t willing to directly pay cash for something does not necessarily mean they don’t ‘find value’ in it. For instance, when’s the last time you personally chipped in for a clinical trial? And how are you paying for that air you’re breathing right now?
“Some benefits are assumed to be part of the environment in which we exist. That’s what it means to have an environment. If a benefit grows scarce to the point that people feel they must directly pay cash from their pocket to keep getting it, there’s probably a far more dire calamity at hand than that single point of scarcity. Most people will almost always seek other free sources of a benefit first.
“I think it’s important to bear in mind that people value benefits, not necessarily forms. The key benefit that journalists and news organizations have provided has been relevant, timely, accurate information that helps people make decisions, take action, and form opinions. For over a century we’ve established an ad-supported business model around packaging that benefit in a form known as “journalism.” But that’s not the only form this benefit can take, and many parts of the “American public” (and the advertising industry) are figuring that out.
“…Therefore, I think the real question isn’t whether we should “stop doing journalism” if people won’t pay for it, but rather: How can society continue to receive the benefits of journalism, given the current media environment? Also, which players might provide those benefits, and how?
“Probably that solution (or more likely, set of solutions) won’t look or work like traditional journalism. It might not be done by ‘professional journalists’ or ‘news organizations.’ It may have different values and standards. It might not even be ‘a business.’ And yes, the big risk is that society could experience harm during this transition. But society also can participate in finding new solutions.”
Visit Gahran’s article (on the Poynter.org site) to see the lively debate this posting has already created.