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Keep Your Stinking Stimulus?

"I've never said that charging for content is bad. If you can charge, mazel tov! My argument is instead that charging is unlikely to succeed and talk of it lately is another unfortunate example of news executives grasping at straws rather than building the future."

Meanwhile, it's all about cutting costs:

"Five major newspapers in New Jersey and New York announced on Wednesday that they would share articles and photographs, adding to a growing movement in an industry that is seeking new ways to cope with shrinking resources.

"The consortium is made up of The Daily News of New York; The Star-Ledger, based in Newark; The Buffalo News; The Record, based in Hackensack, N.J.; and The Times Union of Albany. Similar alliances were formed in the last year among groups of papers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Texas."

Remember when papers actually competed?

In the New Republic, Paul Starr reminds us of the value of newspapers:

"Despite all the development of other media, the fact is that newspapers in recent years have continued to field the majority of reporters and to produce most of the original news stories in cities across the country. Drawing on studies conducted by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, Tom Rosenstiel, the project's director, says that as of 2006 a typical metropolitan paper ran seventy stories a day, counting the national, local, and business sections (adding in the sports and style sections would bring the total closer to a hundred), whereas a half-hour of television news included only ten to twelve.

"And while local TV news typically emphasizes crime, fires, and traffic tie-ups, newspapers provide most of the original coverage of public affairs. Studies of newspaper and broadcast journalism have repeatedly shown that broadcast news follows the agenda set by newspapers, often repeating the same items, albeit with less depth.

"Online there is certainly a great profusion of opinion, but there is little reporting, and still less of it subject to any rigorous fact-checking or editorial scrutiny. Other than news aggregators such as Google News--which link to articles from publications that still derive most of their revenue from print--the most successful news sites are oriented to specialized audiences. No online enterprise has yet generated a stream of revenue to support original reporting for the general public comparable to the revenue stream that newspapers have generated in print . . .

"The reality is that resources for journalism are now disappearing from the old media faster than new media can develop them. The financial crisis of the press may thereby compound the media's crisis of legitimacy. Already under ferocious attack from both left and right for a multitude of sins, real and imagined, the press is going to find its job even more difficult to do under economic duress."

Speaking of Google, Jonathan Rosenberg offers these words:

"We need to make it easier for the experts, journalists, and editors that we actually trust to publish their work under an authorship model that is authenticated and extensible, and then to monetize in a meaningful way . . .

"We won't (and shouldn't) try to stop the faceless scribes of drivel, but we can move them to the back row of the arena."

Drivel? Strong words from an outfit that aggregates what others do but offers not a shred of original content.

At Slate, Jack Shafer looks at all kinds of Web sites that are charging for access and analyzes their success.

Some e-mail feedback I got from readers yesterday:

Neil Thomas: "I would gladly pay a yearly fee for Washington Post online if everyone else was paying for it as well."

Celeste Wallwork: "Find that way to make payment easy and secure. I'm also one of those that would gladly pay an automatic monthly charge for access to online content. I value the WP and its reporting. But obviously, if you're giving it away free, I'll take it free."

Free is hard to beat. But it won't pay the bills.


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