Sunday, January 11, 2009

Information market failure

In Mexico, I was talking to a journalist friend about the recent decline of newspapers and other news outlets. During that conversation, I said something which I think must be true, although I don't know how I would prove it: with the Internet, demand for content is higher than ever. But nobody can find a way to make enough money to provide that content. So, while people today hunger more and more for quality reporting in the still-dawning Information Age, we have less and less of it. I mean, I'm sure there are more people like me every day, people willing to shoot their mouths off in the hope someone will care. But let's not kid ourselves. Whatever I'm doing here is no substitute for actual reportage.

Some time ago, I saw someone make an interesting point about illegal music downloading. People would call what they downloaded with file sharing software "free music." But after paying for a decent computer, a broadband Internet connection and an mp3 player, "free music" starts to look expensive.

Now, I'll grant you, the argument's not perfect. Even though I pay for my music, I still want those things. But it's a fair point. It forces us to consider the gap between what we want and who ends up profiting from those desires. We all want interesting, timely information at our fingertips. But none of the money I've paid to get that information has gone to the people who actually write stories about it. Apple has gotten some. So has Comcast. The New York Times hasn't seen a dime.

I have no solution to offer. I don't even know where to begin. But, as I sit here in Chicago with our local newspapers reduced to a shadow of their former selves, I wish that some of the money I have given to corporations that put cables in the ground could have kept John Conroy writing stories like these.

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