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Should News Be Free? Weird Question.

I'll turn 30 this year.

All things being equal, I haven't been on the planet that long.

But I've seen a lot of changes in a very short amount of time.

One big fascination for me has been to watch "old" media's response to "new" media.

Examples of it abound, but a couple of prominent examples include

  • The Recording Industry Association vs. Napster (and music on the Internet in general)
  • The decline of major newspapers around the world (particularly in the US)

The "old" guard wants to sue to make things right, and get back what's "rightfully theirs".


It was never really yours.

You built an amazing centralized system which allowed all of us to find out about music and movies and news, and etc. etc. etc.

Here's a great post that explains a lot about why old media is having such a hard time with things.

Newspapers are a great example of "old" media which is dying out/changing form because of disruptive technology.

Reading the above led me to this post, asking the question "Should news be free?"

Should news be free?

I think it's beside the point.

Maybe it's because I went through the first part of my life with no Internet, and have had the opportunity to watch and participate in it's growth through my teens and twenties.

But the question itself kind of baffles me.

News, by it's very nature, is free. It always has been.

People have paid for the distribution and the quality of the writing, but news is free.

The "old" pay model is obviously changing dramatically. It's no longer about information, it's about attention.

The old model said "You should pay us for the information we're going to be providing you."

The new model says "Here's something you should really know about. We know there are thousands of other places you will be able to see this news within a few seconds, but we value and appreciate you choosing us. By the way, we're the originator (or) we've added this unique thing to the story. And if you're interested in this piece of news, and you like the way we've presented it, you might want to know when we write about similar things in the future? Oh, and now that you've been so kind as to share your email and/or street address, you might also be the kind of person who is interested in..."

You get someone's attention, then compliment them, then gain their trust, then you give them value, THEN you try to market to them.

Before, attention was about some guy standing in a grocery store or on a college campus (because if they could get you in college, they had you for life) trying to get you to sign up for the weekend edition.

Now, the only way "old" media can get you to sign up is by telling you about the coupons that come for free in the weekend edition.

The new model is about attention. The old model was about attention, but what they were selling was information.

In the old model, those with the best or most current information won the attention.

In the new model, those who have the most or best reasons for you to pay attention will win.

You may say it's the same thing, but it's not.

(Those who gain the most people's attention have the most power. In the long run, it's the service providers with the biggest platforms that really have the most attention... Facebook, Twitter, etc. But that's a whole other topic.)

The difference is, in the new model, it's not about you getting my attention, it's about you encouraging me to choose you as where I place my attention. It's a subtle difference, but it's HUGE. The new model puts me in power (or at least lets me believe I have the power) of my own attention.

Back to the discussion about news.

Here's the thing about news. It's around us, and nearly instant. It happens the moment someone twitters about a new YouTube video just uploaded from the streets of Iran.

The question old media should be asking (actually the question many should have been asking for the last 10 years) is how to take part in the space that's been created, not how to take advantage of the space that's been created to bring people to the old model.

It's a difficult challenge, and some companies have navigated it successfully while many most definitely have not.

News is free.

News will become more and more free as more and more people learn how to upload videos and pictures, and are given all the incentives (which are things like communication with family around the world, having the attention focused on them, etc.) to do so.

The old guard that's still around must adapt to that fact VERY quickly, or they will find their end very soon.

And it will not happen (as they might imagine or hope) with with a wailing and gnashing of teeth, or with a huge bang fireworks explosion ending. It will happen instead with a tiny whimper, as they fade into the background of noise that exists around us all the time now.

The "old" media companies still have time, but the window is closing.


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