A couple of months ago I watched the final episode of The Great Magazines on TV. I found it fascinating, although heavily skewed to women’s magazines and curiously silent about some of the truly great, if limited circulation, magazines.

The program also pondered the issue of the shifting of news and features delivery to the web. In some ways that’s a good thing. It democratises the moulding of opinion by spreading the range of opinions available and out of the hands of a few huge corporations.

The flip side is that it is comment and opinion without responsibility. Newspapers, magazines and journalists can be held accountable for what they say. An anonymous blogger is, in practice, under no such obligation. It may be possible to sue for libel if the person can be identified and then found. In reality it almost never happens.

If you doubt what I am saying consider the blogs and forums specialising on photography. How often have you seen a camera derided and dismissed as rubbish, even before anyone on the planet outside of the company making it, has seen one. Sometimes the remarks are defamatory. yet the company concerned has no redress or right of reply. It can’t even withdraw its advertising in protest.

For example, I am a single person operation and essentially answerable to no one. I am not making any money out of this site so have no obligation to anyone; no obligation to tell the truth; no obligation to present a balanced viewpoint. In short, I can say what I like.

Compare that to a daily newspaper. All of the staff are, in the end, accountable to some one or something, even if in the end it is the law. They have an obligation to their readers to present the truth or what they believe to be the truth — perhaps colored by the paper’s editorial stance to the left or the right — but in essence to get the facts right.

Magazines are not so tightly constrained. Nor do they always tell the truth. The highly retouched covers are usually a dead give-away that one is entering a world that is part fact, part fantasy. Yet a really good magazine like Vanity Fair, for example, will have a formal editorial policy as uncompromising as any of the major newspapers.

Compare that to most bloggers who make it up as they go along. Sure it’s more spontaneous and some would say more representative of the real “voice of the people”. But is it really? Everyone has an agenda. In the end it comes down to trust.

Do you believe everything you read in the papers? No. Do you believe everything you read on the web? Hardly ever.

One of the reasons for this is the myth that everything on the web should be free. Quite frankly, that is nonsense. At the moment most newspapers and magazine on the web are free because they are supported by the full apparatus of the publisher. Withdraw that support and there’s no on-line newspaper.

How is a non-income producing site going to pay for quality journalists? It it going to send a team of writers and photographers to Iraq? Will there be photographers covering local events on a regular basis? Will people produce local newspapers and magazines if there is no money at all.

The crux of the issue if the ability to cover events on a local, national, and international scale. To do so requires money, Lots of it. Without income will journalists and photographers be sent to cover the news. If they are how are they to be paid? Advertising revenue alone isn’t enough.

Too many people outside of the major publishing houses believe that advertising on the web will underpin everything. It won’t. The simple fact is that even if ad revenue were to increase ten-fold, it would be still be spread incredibly thinly. It is a finite cake and a lot of people are after a slice.

The freeness of the the web is perpetuated by people who have jobs and are paid to do something else and who, in effect, want to bludge on the system.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. The price we will all pay in this case is the loss of quality, objective, information. Already too many bloggers are simply regurgitators of skewed public relations puffery, hoping to pick up a few bucks from Google Ads. If you expect crap continue with the free model. If you expect quality, expect to pay for it.

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One response to “FREE V PAID

  1. Pingback: FREE V PAID: AN UPDATE | f0.95/christopher wright photography

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