Society must either pay to stay informed or pay even more to remain misinformed
Jul 21, 2011
Society's choice: Pay for reliable information or face the consequences of misinformation.
A post by journalist Ron Greenslade caught my attention yesterday in The Guardian. In fact, Greenslade's title was going to be exactly the same as this post and my poetic license for copying (besides citing the source) is that he was also talking about a post by another journalist, Clay Shirky, a columnist who always writes excellent texts. In this, Shirky put forward a viewpoint that suggests - rightly - that society needs journalistic work (I hate this expression, but it fits) cannot be a mere commodity.
Shirky set up the dichotomy "journalism as philanthropy versus journalism as capitalism" to establish the problem which, basically, is an issue that newspapers around the world have daily between commercial and editorial priorities. "News has to be subsidized because those in society who seek to tell the truth [ok, this is a controversial concept, but let's adopt that it is a purism] cannot depend on how much their work would be paid in the market". Fact. Journalists who insist on poking many, many enemies tend to live more in underemployment (in democracies) and coffins (countries with authoritarian regimes) than shining in sensational offices of important newspapers. The markets support a much smaller amount of independent, direct, and objective journalism than democracies need to guarantee themselves as such. The devilish feast of Wapping, where NewsCorp's headquarters is located, is an example of how the market makes the newspaper only seek profit and run over society's interests like a runaway tractor.
Shirky continues: "Most people don't care about the news, but we need to think about those who do, even a little, even just once in a while and therefore, it's a service that has to be subsidized". Shirky addresses here a point that the Greek philosopher Castoriadis spoke about: society only does not completely collapse because a small portion of it feels the need to do things the right way, follow the laws and defend what is fair. These people to whom Castoriadis referred are the same ones mentioned by Shirky, those who care about what is happening.
This thought has a lot to do with a transition that journalism is going through today and I commented in another post. The journalistic model that crossed the 20th century making millionaires like Murdoch, the oligarchic "journalistic" Brazilian families, Ted Turner and etc, is not bankrupt, but is doomed to extinction with the new mobilization of society where the transparency and participation of the press in society has become a condition of the game. "If the revenues of capitalist journalism are decreasing and the resources of philanthropic journalism won't cover the gap, we need much cheaper ways to gather, understand and disseminate news, both measured in the amount of information produced and in the number of readers served", observes Shirky. That's why new content production networks, not solely linked to the market, should appear and assume an important role in the information scenario. Relevant news needs to have a contained cost or be free because they need to be disseminated. "The few people who care need to be able to share this news and in times of crisis, sound the alarm for the rest of us", concludes Shirky.
The NewsCorp scandal is certainly a watershed in information production in democratic markets (Brazil is not, because the legislation here is cartelizing, guarantees market reserves and is irregularly distributed). Even in immature markets like Brazil, its impact will come, because with the growing paranoia of sharing (a paranoia that brings risks to privacy but will knock down a series of privilege reservoirs), the era of large corporations that guide themselves schizophrenically based solely on their interests, is near its end (as the documentary "The Corporation" shows). The dinosaurs are seeing the ice arrive. But they are in denial.