I expect the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a newspaper I’ve long admired, to go belly up — even though I have no specific information about its finances and whether it is, indeed, in danger of folding.
But this week, it gave its product to me for free. I would have gladly paid up to 5 cents to read just one of its stories. But the JS didn’t charge me. What kind of business model allows me to consume a product for free?
I learned of the story through an e-mailed version of Romenesko, the legendary (or infamous, depending on your POV), media news page at Poynter. org, the Web site of the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank.
The Poynter e-mail contained this tease: “Wisconsin university football coach bans student reporters (http://www.jsonline.com/business/43539347.html).” I clicked on the link and —ta da — there it was, a story written by JS reporter Don Walker. Free. Didn’t have to pay a penny. And I would have. Gladly.
I know this isn’t a rare phenomenon. I suspect you’ve read news for free online, too. Bet you kinda expect it to be free, even demand that it be free. Perhaps you think it’s some kind of birthright. But in the long run, if you do not pay for the product of professional journalists, you will lose one of your best defenses against secrecy, corruption, and tyranny.