Monday, October 18, 2010

Are Free Newspapers Devaluing News?

NOW THAT WE are all used to free information readily available online, there is a great debate happening about establishing paywalls on news websites. The rational is that news is expensive to produce and the audience should pay for the information.

The problem that began online is also seen in print, where free newspapers have become popular around the world. The Metro, which has a Philadelphia edition, boasts the 5th largest newspaper circulation and is the most read free daily newspaper in the country.

“Free newspapers are, in many cases, devaluing the currency," Phillip Crawley, publisher and CEO of Toronto's Globe and Mail, said last week. "It’s the equivalent of elevator music.”

The criticism of free newspapers is that they generally lack depth in their stories, they rely upon salacious content and they are too broad in their coverage (so as to appeal to the largest common denominator). Oh, and they're stealing readers from newspapers that still charge for print editions.

Are free newspapers the ultimate form of democracy or the murderers of serious journalism?


Erik Lexie said...

I don't see it as a problem at all. Maybe that's because I'm naturally skeptical when I see someone's complaints happen to coincide with their financial interests, but it's just not possible for me to take this seriously when it's coming from the newspapers who are being undermined. Someone without that bias is going to have to step forward and show me that we're actually missing something we had before. I think they will have a hard time doing that, though. Maybe, because of the internet, there is just too much now, so it's harder to find the good stuff. But it seems to me that the possibilities for staying informed are better than ever.

Geo said...

How about a larger question: did putting stuff online for free devalue information?

Does information have value anymore, especially in the age of Wikipedia, Google and facebook?

- George
(the teacher who is charging anyone who reads this $1 per word).

Alexis Wright-Whitley said...

I think that the internet is full of useless crap, but it's up to the people (readers) to figure out what is really newsworthy and what is not. Anyone can post whatever they feel online, and some may believe it. I say that those people lack something called "GO FIGURE IT OUT FOR YOURSELF!" In all honesty, if someone wants real news, they just need to check out the stuff that BBC has to offer. All of this American stuff is garbage.

Anonymous said...

This might be a little off topic, but i think that it is important for newspapers to make money. Not so they can pay their employees, and hopefully me, but so that they can do expensive in depth stories. If Newspapers are financially crippled they will be unable to act as a watchdog of government because they will not have the resources to expose corruption

Kelly Offner said...

In response to the first question on the blog page, I don't think free newspapers are devaluing the content of serious journalists. I think the real problem is that, as someone said above, readers are not actively reading and scanning information in the news. Readers who want a great article full of serious content and worthwhile information seek it out.
What The Metro being the fifth largest paper circulation tells me are two things: One, people like free stuff. Two, most Americans want a broad view on whats going on because it A. makes for a quick and easy read and B. gives them something to talk about at the office other than work.
I would say the idea of people favoring free news is scary to someone like Phillip Crawley and those in the journalism business because they realize news also has to be a BUSINESS. Free papers don't pay reporters, publishers, or CEO's.
I also want to add a coversation I had with my roommate about news. She asked me how she is "supposed to take reporters seriously when all that's on television is slander and half-reported stories and all that's in the paper is sports (forgive her) and stories about how many "sexual favors" politicans get."
I said that those examples aren't the only things in the news or what reporters cover and that if she looks for her news in more reliable sources she will discover there are compelling news stories out there.
To this she answered, "I don't have time for that."
I made a convincing rebuttle (that description may be bias) on how it would really take her the same amount of time to read or watch reliable news than whatever it is she's talking about.
Answer: "Well I just want to listen to the news while getting ready in the morning."
so I gave up. Sadly I think this mind state is becoming an American epidemic....

Erik Lexie said...

I don't know how making it free can devalue it. I think Wikipedia is a terrific example of a productive joint effort to value information. It isn't intended to be taken as a definitive source on anything, but it does maintain standards about properly citing information, and what is commonly said to be its weakness-that anyone can edit it-is also its strength, because its integrity is maintained by millions of people all over the world who prove that they value information by cleaning up and correcting articles.

I think people are always afraid when advances make older ways of doing things obsolete. Someone somewhere probably believes that newspapers devalued information, too, and that we were wrong to abandon town criers.

Jonathan said...

Is the Metro going to rival the journalistic depth of, say, the New York Times? No. But ask the average SEPTA rider to shell out money for a paper, they won't. Give it to them for free, they will read it. People who want to (and, therefore, who will) read the Times will pay for it.

So, the real question is, isn't this making the news MORE accessible? Isn't it better, if you are unwilling to invest to read the "quality" newspapers, that you get at least a vague worldview than none at all?