It takes something to raise an otherwise dormant blog. A world event. Perhaps a major personal development. An exceptionally good curry one simply has to share the qualities of.
In my case, it’s an article floating the idea of a £2 -a-month levy on broadband in order to fund the ‘news’ (for which, read newspaper) industry in the UK.
David Leigh accepts the premise that print is in decline and readers are moving online. He then continues:
Not only do those readers dislike the idea of paying to read online, but the existence, among other sites, of the rival licence-fee-payer-funded BBC website guarantees that they will never actually need to pay for a supply of reliable day-to-day news. Paywalls will never really work in a UK context for that reason.
Or instead of the BBC I could use, well, Twitter. Or any of the other news sites based around the world which, thanks to the wonders of technology, I can also access.
It’s a side point, but competition for major newspapers doesn’t just come from the BBC. Hell, it doesn’t come from just CNN, the New York Times, Huffington Post, TMZ or other ‘news’ websites. It comes from every other site in the world: a user on your site is only ever a click-away from Flickr, their personal or work email, a blog, or Facebook (the most extreme hyper-local news network, tailored to each individual, there has ever been). If you can’t hold their attention, try harder.
I’ll also take issue with the next point:
Yet when the day comes that the newspapers are forced to stop printing altogether, it will be a disaster for democracy. The lean pickings from web advertising on a free newspaper site will only pay for a fraction of the high-quality investigative journalism that commercial newspapers generate.
I hear this defence frequently when it comes to local newspapers in particular. It’ll be a ‘disaster for democracy’, we’ll have no scrutiny of the councils, of planning applications and so on. Have you read a local newspaper recently? (They can be found in places called newsagents). For the most part, they are not heaving with quality investigations, reports of how the council is spending money or in-depth looks at local elections. Instead, they are heaving with re-written copy from press releases by local business. Now this could be a re-enforcing cycle here: declining sales means fewer staff with less time to spend on in-depth stories. But that doesn’t change the quality issue.
In addition, it’s not as if the major newspapers are relying on sales to stay afloat. Instead they are dependent on a larger, non-state actors (Murdoch with The Times and The Sun, Lebedev with the Independent titles, Scott Trust and The Guardian). In effect, newspapers are already subsidised, just not by the public (a point I think I first saw made by Charlie Beckett).
Finally the proposal:
A small levy on UK broadband providers – no more than £2 a month on each subscriber’s bill – could be distributed to news providers in proportion to their UK online readership. This would solve the financial problems of quality newspapers, whose readers are not disappearing, but simply migrating online.
I tend to read the news on my phone. Some of the time this will be using broadband via wireless. But a lot of the time it will be using 3G. Under this proposal, those reading the news on a laptop at home would be funding it, but someone reading the same article on their phone on the passing bus wouldn’t be. Could always whack it on the mobile providers too – but then it’s £4 a month.
Next: why should I fund websites whose content I don’t consume? I’ll confess to never reading the tabloids. I’ll look at The Guardian and Telegraph daily (the latter to force myself to consider a different perspective, which rarely lasts). I’d probably look at The Independent’s online presence if their website didn’t make my eyes hurt. The rest is international press, blogs and Twitter (and the BBC). This suggestion would see me fund media outlets whom I never go near, because we feel it important enough to charge everyone for all of this. What about consumers who don’t read the news at all?
Of course this is, roundabout, what we do with the BBC. There is an issue that in a world of multiple digital platforms, the licence fee is still based on ownership of a television. But the BBC pays a price for this subsidy in being (rightly) forced into editorial independence. Unless newspapers are willingly to relinquish their political stance by virtue of being publicly funded – and no-one, not their board, editors, journalists or readers would want this – then any comparison with the BBC is mute. Technically the proposal is not taxpayer funded in that it’s not from the Treasury but we don’t divide the population into those who own a TV and don’t, and we wouldn’t do so with broadband provision either.
I can’t tell you how much I love the media. I’ll read stories from ten different sources every day on topics from social media to the Middle East, the health sector, Wandsworth and a myriad of subjects I wouldn’t even have thought of before but the journalists bring them to me. This should be properly funded with a range of different business models.
But charging consumers to save an industry simply because it can’t think of other ways to be funded is insane. It also takes an almost offensive amount of confidence to believe that the public would accept this because they believe all journalism by news organisations is so admirable to deserves direct funding.
No I don’t have an alternative suggestion, but I don’t need one to criticise this idea. If nothing else, it tells us how desperate some in the media industry see the situation that they suggest near-compulsory public funding.