News, Commerce, and the Common Good

Another great piece by Mathew Ingram over at GigaOm, this time on the New York Times’ proposal to start offering early access to some of its news to businesses. By saving some content exclusively for businesses to access, they certainly could make money. In that, they would be like Bloomberg or Reuters, which is a concerning idea. Ingram states it perfectly:

One of the things that bothers me about this idea is that I think there is still some kind of public-service or public-policy value in journalism, and especially the news — I don’t think it is just another commodity that should be designed to make as much money as possible. And if the New York Times were to take stories that are arguably of social significance and provide them to hedge funds in advance, I think that would make it a very different type of entity than it is now. What if it was a story about a dangerous drug or national security?

Maybe doing that would be more lucrative, and perhaps the future of broad, general-interest news vehicles is so unhealthy that they will all have to become controlled-circulation newsletters for the wealthy, with some free content provided almost as an afterthought. That’s effectively what Rupert Murdoch’s hard paywall at the The Times has done to that newspaper. Reuters and Bloomberg are somewhat different because they were created specifically to appeal to institutions, and started providing news to the public as a by-product.

News also has a critical function in the maintenance of a free society. In order for us to make good decisions about personal action, community issues, or national governance, we need to know what is going on. Without information, society is impoverished. We need news that is available to all.

The move makes good business sense; it will benefit shareholders. But if the Times goes this route, it will be a great loss for American society as a whole.

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