About That Newspaper You Say is Obsolete

“Information wants to be free”. That’s a frequent line from the IT people. But to begin with, “information” is not a living thing, and cannot “want” anything at all. More importantly, information is not free. It has to come from somewhere, actually from someone, from a breathing person, and that person needs to be paid for the work she does, because almost none of us working folk are independently wealthy.

The perfect example of the information that wants to be free is news. Free news is all over the internet, and you can access it at no cost. But where does this news come from? Sure, people can tweet up-to-the-moment news as they see it, but that’s quite different from a good piece of reporting in the NYT, which is far less likely to lead you to unwarranted conclusions or tell you something that simply isn’t so, and it will probably have insights not found elsewhere. I got Tweets and Facebook notes that said Nelson Mandela had died. Well, he hadn’t at that time, and none of the responsible news media repeated the rumor that he had.

News does not come from news aggregators.

And what does it take to get this information in order to report it correctly. Reporters can’t simply check the blogosphere, or news aggregators like HuffPost. They cannot rely on rumors. They have to contact the actual persons involved, find the actual data in files somewhere, read the background history. They have to ask the right questions, and faithfully report the answers. And it all has to be confirmed by an independent source. This does not come cheap, let alone free.

So saying that information wants to be free is nonsense, and putting it online without the solid research necessary to provide an accurate understanding of what happened cannot fail to give an incorrect story at best. If newspapers and the people who work on them are replaced by an online presence of people who are sitting at their desk at home, or Tweeting from their mobiles, we simply will have no news, and will not have accurate information about what’s going on in the world.

Saying that information wants to be free is nonsense.

TV news is hardly any better. There are certain fact-free broadcasters like Fox, which broadcast endless false information born of their own prejudices, or half truths at best. But all regular news broadcasts suffer from another shortcoming. If their show is thirty minutes long, they have to fill that half hour with something, and that is not really a reasonable thing to do. If something major has happened, such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, it’s quite reasonable for the news to be extended to a couple of hours. But if nothing much happened, the newscaster still has to fill that half hour, and what they fill it with is often insipid, repetitive, and stupid.

If someone is to be put on trial that day in some neighboring county on a slow news day the station will dispatch a whole team, including a mobile transmitter and a pretty female newscaster, who will stand in the early morning rain in front of the empty county courthouse and announce that there will be a trial later today. Good grief. Or maybe a tree limb fell on a car. In both cases there will be endless repetitions of the “eyewitness” on-the-spot footage, neither of which deserves more than a quick glance. But that thirty minutes gots to get filled.

Now, let’s back up a bit. There is plenty of info that should be free. Among examples are some level of informing the public what the government is recording of our activities. This is sometimes a gray area, but the government tendency is a thoroughly anti-democratic tendency to hide even mundane information.

There is plenty of info that should be free,
such as government activities and drug research.

Another area is medical research, particularly drug company research. Drug companies have financial incentive to disguise the actual findings from their clinical studies, by cherry picking, or by favoring independent reviews who speak favorably. This is short sighted because hidden side effects can sometimes cost billions from lawsuits and government prosecution. Not that we all want to wade through a thousand pages of technical studies, although researchers should be able to, but findings should not be firewalled by expensive journals that even a lot of libraries cannot afford.

But even here, somehow this information has to be paid for, and few of us, particularly conservatives, want to spend a lot of tax money for that. So, yes, information needs to be available. But to say it wants to be free is a semantic trick. Information costs money, and it must somehow be paid for.


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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. have you noticed of late that all the really big American stories (spying and such) have been broken by newspapers outside of America – the Guardian being the main one – corporate America has such a dominating control over newspapers now that they only entertain us…


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