Why we all need newspapers to find a viable online business model

Newspapers, as everybody knows, are still struggling to get to grips with the internet. For a few years they threw all of their resources into establishing a strong online presence and trying to pull in as big an audience as possible, under the optimistic belief that if enough people were reading the online content, a viable business model must somehow evolve sooner or later.

That business model hasn’t materialised, and the publishers are left grappling with the long running problem of how to make money out of online content, especially when advertising seems to be plummeting.

Some of them have cried foul, and blamed news aggregating services (primarily Google News) for unfairly profiting from their content. Google’s public response to this accusation was to point out how incredibly easy it would be for the newspapers to prevent their content from being indexed by search engines, if that’s what they really want.

Of course, that’s not what newspaper publishers want, and it’s highly unlikely that any of them followed Google’s advice for blocking search engines from their sites.

If you browse through the comments left by people on the numerous blog posts dedicated to this subject, it becomes clear that few people have any sympathy for the newspapers. They are largely viewed as arrogant, plodding, old media dinosaurs that deserve to die if they can’t adapt their business models to the new online world.

There’s a big problem with this. Most businesses which took a beating during the internet revolution struggled because they were replaced by a better online alternative, but that’s not the case with newspapers. Healthy democracies depend upon the kind of high quality, impartial reporting that a properly functioning free press delivers and despite the evolution of citizen journalism, right now nobody is capable of providing a suitable alternative to the service provided by our best newspapers.

The free press is too important to society for us to sit back and let the markets decide its fate. If we don’t find a way for independent journalism to survive, we risk irreparably damaging one of the fundamental components of the democratic process.

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