It seems like every week we hear about another nail in the coffin of traditional media, especially newspapers. According to NewspaperDeathwatch.com, the print editions of The Tucson Citizen, Rocky Mountain News, Baltimore Examiner and many more have fallen victim to some combination of Craigslist, free-online news, blogs, Twitter and the recession. In Canada, Global TV, CTV and CBC Television are petitioning the government for a “Save Local TV” fund (or “TV tax“, if you are in the Rogers Cable and Shaw camp).
There are few people who would deny that news publishers should get paid somehow. Hopefully fewer still would deny that journalists should get paid for their work. However, the ad-supported model just isn’t providing enough revenue to justify the traditional news gathering infrastructure and casualties are mounting.
Anyone with a basic grasp of economics knows that if advertising space (supply) is exploding on every social media site, then without an equal increase in advertisers (demand) the price will drop sharply. Some might see this as the necessary process of the broadcast media snake shedding its skin and hope that a new model will emerge. One could point to initiatives like the New York Times possibly issuing Kindles instead of print editions as potential models for the future, but I think there is an even wider effect beyond the future of news gathering.
The Associated Press and Wall Street Journal have taken a particularly strong stand as seen from this CNet article:
“There is no doubt that certain Web sites are best described as parasites or tech tapeworms in the intestines of the Internet,” Robert Thomson, the Journal’s editor, was quoted in Australian newspaper The Australian on Monday. “It’s certainly true that readers have been socialized–wrongly I believe–that much content should be free…And there is no doubt that’s in the interest of aggregators like Google who have profited from that mistaken perception. And they have little incentive to recognize the value they are trading on that’s created by others.”
In my limited investigation, a sizeable portion of the stories I see from blogs, tweets, and social networks have an original source in a traditional media outlet and in many cases social media provides a series of filters, commentary and summarized version of this content, which is certainly valuable. This is not to undermine the amazing work of some bloggers in crafting original news content and providing commentary, but the big question to me is this: If the pay walls go up on all of the news media we used to get for free online, will it negatively impact the quality or quantity of social media conversations around those news items?
Time will tell, and likely tell us sooner than we think.