Democracy requires a healthy news media to keep it in check. A healthy news media requires money to pay its top reporters to go investigate stories. The Internet is sucking money away from TV news organizations and traditional newspapers and news magazines.

Unfortunately the free news distributed on the Internet doesn't make much revenue for any individual company. The ad-supported model is too weak, and growing weaker as the amount of content grows faster than the number of advertisers. So eventually there will be no funds to pay investigative reporters. The so-called "news" will be whatever information is cheapest to gather, such as lies from the people in charge. That will doom democracy. Obviously we're more than halfway there already.

Once democracy is completely broken, crazy dictators will find it easier to get nukes and then it's a slippery slope to total nuclear annihilation.

A recent cover story in Time suggested that the solution for creating a profitable news media, and thus saving the world (I added that part), was a generally accepted system for micropayments on the Internet, so news could be purchased as easily as music on iTunes. The technology part is doable, but in my opinion most of the public will prefer free news sources over paid news even if the quality is vastly different. So the Wall Street Journal, for example, could continue doing great reporting as a subscription service but too few regular citizens would read it to make a difference.

The other way things could go is that news media companies will merge until a few moguls control all of it. That would solve the profitability problem. But at that point it won't matter if the few moguls have the money to pay investigative reporters or not because the moguls will effectively control the world. The last thing they'll want is accurate reporting. With any luck the media moguls will back puppet leaders who are benevolent dictators. That's our best hope.
Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  0
  • Print
  • Share


Sort By:
Mar 5, 2009
"So the Wall Street Journal, for example, could continue doing great reporting as a subscription service..."

It surprises me that you can worry about how the internet is undermining democracy, while praising the new Murdoch WSJ in the same post. Have you read it in the last year? It's has become a tabloid compared to the old WSJ. It now has so much spin in their coverage they lose the point of their articles and headlines. Go to WSJ.com and watch the talking heads talk about the "Obama Depression." That's not news. It's Rush and Hannity
Feb 23, 2009
Media moguls have "owned" news organizations for a couple of decades now, and insist that they be "profitable." That was the beginning of the end of reliable, cutting edge investigative journalism. The "golden age" of reporting that Boomers wist for are for the TV days of Walter Cronkite, et al, during the Vietnam era. Back then, the news organizations at the major networks were loss leaders, subsidized by the entertainment divisions, and done as a public service. We saw great, thought provoking material.

But in the days of Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, you won't see a Cronkite or an Edward R. Murrow anymore, just like you won't see a Woodward or Bernstein at any major newspaper. Truth can be messy and unsettling, and it certainly doesn't sell advertising.

We're breaking away from a 5000-year experiment in vertically-integrated, top-down, centralized, hierarchically-managed systems, based on scarcity, and evolving into systems that are decentralized and horizontally-integrated, based on relative abundance. Many conflicts we see today (even in the banking system!) are really that of the "old order" resisting this evolution.

While "citizen journalism" on the internet seems messy and unprofessional, at times, there is greater opportunity for many more people to contribute something worthwhile than was true in the past, and as it evolves, a real "meritocracy" will evolve with it, where those who consistently show themselves to be the Real Deal (whether they went to journalism school or not) will be rewarded with millions of page views - and page views = ad revenue.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 22, 2009
Gah! Remember "A Clockwork Orange?" This is an example of old age having a go at youth. One of your commenters even compared all internet news and information to tabloid style journalism. Listen all of you old a55 faces. The internet has thousands of different options for news and information. Several of them actually directly link to sources and additional material. When you read an article in the newspaper, do you have any immediate way to check those facts that doesn't involve.......... THE INTERNET! God all of you old dinosaurs who want to pretend that the media USED to be fair, and USED to be truthful and USED to provide us all with the necessary information to make a democracy run like a well oiled machine have your heads directly up your a55es. Please die so we may build a new society out of the ashes.
Feb 22, 2009
in my opinion, the micropayment model is about tracking citizens and their political views.

what's up with HD tv? do we need to have our viewing habits tracked?

our govt(obama) is amassing info on our medical records too. what a great month eh?

obama reversed separation of church and state, kept the patriot act(which he voted for), expanded war in mideast with 17000 more troops, has been considering 'fairness doctrine', national civilian militia, and started using taxpayer money to fund overseas abortions.

oh, and he spend about a trillion on what is considered by most critical observers as PORK. on the absolute s uck-ups pretend its a stimulus bill.

these guys are actually talking about wage freezes and nationalizing the banking industry.

oh and obama signed legislation for women's rights and socialized medicine based on age(children). in light of agism and sexism, obama has a confusing stance.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 20, 2009
Eventually you will get a subscription to credible, professional online sources because you will be tired of halfass information from dumbass bloggers.
Feb 20, 2009
I don't understand why people are so convinced that the media used to be better in the olden days. In colonial times the revolutionaries published pamphlets that were essentially the blogs of their day. They weren't exactly unbiased, or even necessarily well-financed to do investigative journalism. And then there's the whole William Randall Herst empire, who's biased journalism turned the explosion on the USS Maine into public outrage blaming Spain for it, and got the USA into a war with Spain and turned us into a global power. Think of him as the Rupert Murdoch of his day.

I read a LOT of news from many different sources, and you are never going to find an unbiased source. The best way is to get your information from many different sources, to try to get a picture for what's actually happening. It's also important I think to learn where the "experts" that get interviewed come from. Learn what the "Heritage Foundation" and the "Cato institute" are all about, and you'll understand why those "experts" feel the way they do (i.e. they are hired to espouse certain ideologies).
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 20, 2009
As Dr. E.L. Kersten said: "Never before have so many people with so little to say said so much to so few."
Feb 20, 2009
Considering there are many people that have a primary news source as The Daily Show, SNL and Colbert, we already are doomed.
However, i submit there will always be a blogosphere that is able to discrene the truth of what is going on. Look at what LGF did with the CBS report during the 04 campaign.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 20, 2009
Too late, Scott. All media is merely a propaganda machine, already for 20 years.
So, doom is inevitable. But, it's OK. We deserved it.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 20, 2009
"healthy news media requires money"

well, yeah, but much more so it requires reporters who aren't prostitutes for the Democrat party.

we clearly saw that requirement evaporate this last election cycle.
Feb 20, 2009
Do you really think the big news organizations are financially run as stand alone companies? No. They are kept afloat by the revenue from their conglomerate. As long as they own other, profitable companies, we have no need to worry about our newsies.....
Feb 20, 2009
Your post rests on some quite shaky assumptions:

1.) That internet changed the "quality" of news. For the U.S., that seems unlikely: when I spent a year in the U.S. as an exchange student in the late 80s, I was quite astonished at the - compared to European standards - wishy-washy quality and extremely low breadth of news coverage, both in print and TV.

2.) That people who are not willing to pay for quality in the internet age contributed to the profitability of "quality" media in the past. In my personal example, I went and bought the NYT to get at least a bit of quality news - and I am still willing to pay for it today. The youtube-style news you get today compares to the tabloid news of yesterday - a lot to do with business, but nothing with quality news...
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 20, 2009
Last year, when you said you'd dumb down this blog and not touch so many controvercial subjects in the interest of family income you lied, didn't you.
Feb 20, 2009
The flaw in the micropayments model is that it foregrounds the beauty contest aspect of news production. News is a subset of the media, and the media (as any hoary old Marxist will aver) is just another form of capitalist production - albeit a highly mediated one. It needs to compete in the market.
Moreover, if your business relies on people buying tiny chunks of very low margin product to survive, you will strive to make those chunks as palatable as possible. "If it bleeds, it leads."
It's difficult to blame the news gatherers themselves for this change of tack. I log on to the BBC web site first thing every morning to check the news, and invariably find myself watching videos of cats stuck in washing machines instead. The internet is turning us all into intellectual starlings. Boo.
Feb 19, 2009
Scott, your fears have already come true. A few rich people run the media and there is no free press out there reporting the truth.

Gosh we aren't willing to pay for news because it isn't worth the money.

All politics are local, I'll just go to the drug store to find out what is going on.
Feb 19, 2009
One of the problems is that people turn to bloggers and informal news organizations more and more, which does cause problems for traditional news sources. This causes a reduction in the traditional news source coverage, as you point out. The issue, however, is that in many cases the bloggers and other non-traditional, amateur news operators are still shut out from certain events by being denied press passes. At the university near me, a very well known local amateur sports blogger was effectively banned from practicing his craft because of new rules implemented at school sporting events designed to keep him from taking pictures without a press pass. But they won't give him a press pass. If the MLB, NBA, NFL, etc. decide to enforce the provisions about not allowing any description, discussion, etc. of the contents of their broadcasts, there are a lot of bloggers that will be unhappy.

So again, while the traditional news media is losing ground, amateur news outlets don't get the official access they need to pick up the slack, and they are only doing so unofficially until someone gets angry and locks them out or sues them.
Feb 19, 2009
The following was recieved from a member of our 'unbiased' print media, just following the last presidential election. It may speak to the conclusion of some other posts, that many people have opted out of print / network media due to distrust:

"This is about the presidential election. How I voted is not important. Journalists are supposed to be impartial. They are not supposed to do anything that influences how a person votes. Like a judge, we are supposed to be transparent.
Tuesday night, whenever McCain or Palin were on TV, some would boo, some would laugh sarcastically, some would curse them. Some insulted other republican candidates. When Obama was shown on TV, people clapped and gave each other high-fives or hugs. They would gather in front of the TVs and talk ... not about what a good president Obama will be but how much McCain is like Bush and how important a historical moment this is.
These are the same journalists whose job it is to interview, and take seriously, and write stories about republicans. They are the ones who influence your vote. Democrats think Obama is the right choice because of the way they portrayed the candidates. Want to know what the "liberal elite media" is? This is it. This is us. I'm a member."
Feb 19, 2009
If the general public isn't willing to pay directly for quality journalism then other business models will emerge. For example, the way the BBC is funded is a baffling anachronism that should not work, but it just so happens to have produced one of the best news organizations in the world.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 19, 2009
I like all the false presuppositions about the newsmedia being brought up here. Also, the newsmedia has always operated in an unusual market. Copyrights have never really applied to the newsmedia for example. Once somebody puts information out there, there is no law restricting others from spreading the same information. There is a good description of how the newsmedia, more specifically the print media, has operated since its origins. http://www.dklevine.com/general/intellectual/againstfinal.htm This free online book, which explains just how much of an unnecessary evil patents and copyrights are, discusses the newsmedia at length. Your question basically answers itself. It an environment where "real" news is hard to find, smart investigators will always be able to extract a buck from the market created by the vacuum of real information. Then thanks to the great equalizer, the internet, the best information will spread to everybody. The book, "Infotopia," discusses just how it is better to have thousands of random bits of information than to have a minority of "experts" deliberate for hours on even far superior bits of information. The deliberative groups more often than not fail to achieve an answer better than the aggregation of random samplings of massive amounts of information from large numbers of sources.

The traditional media is a lie. They hide behind platitudes and the heroic image of the unbiased, noble investigator. Defending "the people." Striving to find the truth. He is uncorrupted and incorruptible. Nowadays the whine de jour is that "money" has infected in this once great and noble industry, driving the news to the point of mere advertising. I would say that the medias decline into mediocrity is more a symptom of its impotence and not a cause of it. Think about it, strong companies don't have to worry about being pushed around by investors. The management of a strong corporation doesn't have to worry as much about being fired, as a profit is almost guaranteed every quarter, so a culture and a way of doing things can develop and grow. However, when a company is failing, the lack of a profit makes investors pushy and nervous. They start making demands with impunity.

Really, the traditional media was always biased, as well back as into the twenties at least. Misinformation was just presented with absolute "authority," and anyone who disagreed was just "wrong." My belief is that, in the future, a new army of freelance investigators will find people to sell their hottest tidbits of information and as the information becomes more "stale" it will spread for free throughout the internet, be met with discussion on discussion boards that will demand proof (most discussions on the internet demand links to sources of information), and then that information will provide something far more actionable than anything the traditional newsmedia ever provided us with. Remember, the traditional newsmedia has never provided us with anything better than bias (even not for profit newsmedia all you liberal douches) or simply bad presuppositions based on unquestioned misinformation. The internet gives us all an active role in what was a traditionally a passive experience. Why are you afraid of that Scott? Do you buy into the platitudes and sacred images of the "traditional" media? What a fool you old folks have all been.

I find it funny how one brit seems to think that his nations newsmedia is superior. You're forced to feed the mouth that supplies you with what's supposed to be "the truth." What poor saps. It's like feeding something to eat its poop.
Feb 19, 2009
There are several other methods besides micropayments that can keep a news organization in the black.

Periodically, NPR - a (relatively) non-commercial, "fee" service holds "beg-a-thons". Wikipedia also recenctly had "Please Donate" in it's banner adds. Only 1% of the people who use the content pay for it, but it just enough.

Bundling content is another way. While the Dilbert comics are free online (thank you, thank you), some Syndicates (aren't those what the Mob uses?) have been charging for a while, at least for more than "teaser" content. Unlimited steaming / download sites also have moved from free to pay-per-play. A conglomerate of content providers, entertainment and news, would be more likely to be profitable than a single type, and one that would be more palitable to those used to "free" content.

Bundle the content with cell phone service, or a browser, and it becomes even more unbeastable. NPR with Sprint; Fox News with AT&T.

And don't forget the "Blair Witch"es of the world. BECAUSE of the Internet, a nobody with a good story can post online, and the story can go viral. At which point, whatever "news" providers remain will have to do the followup.

There are things that cause me to worry about the future of our world. The internet killing democracy isn't one of them.
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog