Why Buy the Cow When I'm Giving Milk Away for Free? The Problem of Newspapers

Sharon December 30th, 2008

In order to start this essay on the much discussed death of the newspaper, I have to talk about television.  Bear with me for a second.  The tv in question was”The Wire.”

Now we don’t watch a lot of tv (in fact, we don’t have reception, much less HBO), but several people recommended we see “The Wire” and the minute we did, we were hooked – we watched the first four seasons obsessively, and waited impatiently for the fifth to finally be released on DVD.  When it finally was, we drank the episodes down and did something we’ve literally never done before – we actually watched the whole commentary at the end.  Whenever people denigrate tv (and I do too) as a medium, I’m reminded that sometimes you can almost make up for a whole generation’s worth of crap in a matter of a few dozen hours of content. 

But anyway, as we were watching the commentary on the fifth season, exploring the role of the newspaper in urban life and watching David Simon (who I’ve admired since I read the book the original (and very good) series ”Homicide” was based upon in the early 1990s), I was struck by his commentary on bloggers and their impact on struggles that newspapers are having.  He said, with absolute contempt in his voice, “How little respect do you have for yourself to give away your work for free.”  I have to say, I’ve been struck by this for a long time – by what it encapsulates and what it misses entirely as a metaphor for the problem that newspapers face.

It is, of course, the classic “why buy the cow when they are giving the milk away for free” question in all its complexity.  And while the question turns out not to be very relevant on the subject of sex, it rather works for journalism.  And it plays out both ways – the bloggers give it away for free, undermining, of course, those who want to sell the cow (professional journalists who want to be paid), but also creating what I would describe as the classic “blogger’s dilemma” in which a successful blogger, who started out using his or her spare time, now finds that they are imprisoned by their own success, with the blog demanding more time – but thus requiring them to make some money from it.

Of course, I can hardly be said not to have an opinion on this, although I’m hardly the purist that Ran Prieur is said to be – I’ve heard he actually refuses to make any money on his work, whereas I cheerfully accepted a full 4K for _Depletion and Abundance_, and charge a university .06 cents a page to reprint “The Ethics of Biofuels” (total remuneration $11.18 for ’08).  Still, I think it is fair to say that must be having some major crisis of self-respect, since I give most of my work away for free.  Even when I charge for something (my book, classes), I try to ensure that a significant portion of the content is available on the blog for those who can’t spend the money.  In fact, sin of sins,  I’ve been known to give my material away for free to newspapers and magazines, who then make money off of them.  My policy is that if I wrote it for free originally, you can have it for free now, as long as you give attribution and use it appropriately.   

That said, I’m a big fan of print papers.  I grew up in what a friend once called “The Church of the Holy Globe” – by the time I was 14 I purchased my own personal copy of the Boston Globe every morning and brought it with my to high school, and read it before classes started.  Despite the habit of the Globe to overemphasize the importance of regional activities (if the planet were to explode tomorrow the headline would read “Many New Englanders Killed in Planetary Explosion”), the newspaper habit runs deep in me.  I’m told that on my first day of kindergarten I announced I would now read the newspaper to my father.  Even then I knew that the realm of public discourse – and my own entry into it, started with the newspaper.

I can even sympathize with the viewpoint expressed here

Now we’re hearing the same thing about the blogosphere. “When enough bloggers take the leap, and start reporting on the statehouse, city council, courts, etc. firsthand, full-time, then the Big Media will take notice and the avalanche will begin,” Mr. Reynolds quotes another blogger as saying. If this avalanche ever occurs, a lot of bloggers will be found gasping for breath under piles of pure ennui. There is nothing more tedious than a public meeting.

After I got out of Rutgers, I began as a reporter at a newspaper in Ocean County, N.J. If the Toms River Regional Board of Education had not offered free coffee, I fear that I might have been found the next day curled up on the floor in the back of the room like Rip Van Winkle. As it was, I only made it through the endless stream of resolutions and speeches by employing trance-inducing techniques learned in my youth during religion class at St. Joseph’s school up the street.

The common thread here, whether the subject is foreign, national or local, is that the writer in question is performing a valuable task for the reader — one that no sane man would perform for free. He is assembling what in the business world is termed the “executive summary.” Anyone can duplicate a long and tedious report. And anyone can highlight one passage from that report and either praise or denounce it. But it takes both talent and willpower to analyze the report in its entirety and put it in a context comprehensible to the casual reader.

This highlights the real flaw in the thinking of those who herald the era of citizen journalism. They assume newspapers are going out of business because we aren’t doing what we in fact do amazingly well, which is to quickly analyze and report on complex public issues. The real reason they’re under pressure is much more mundane. The Internet can carry ads more cheaply, particularly help-wanted and automotive ads.

So if you want a car or a job, go to the Internet. But don’t expect that Web site to hire somebody to sit through town-council meetings and explain to you why your taxes will be going up. Soon, newspapers won’t be able to do it either.

 I agree that the work of journalism is one that most people will probably not undertake without payment, and that a wildly democratic society full of bloggers will result in people having to sort through a whole lot of ill-written, inadequate crap (and yes, I know that some will cheerfully put me in that category as well, which seems only fair ;-) ) among the gems.  I rely heavily on newspaper writers for the material I get – I do not underestimate their value in summing things up and sorting things out – in fact, mine would be a poorer blog without them, and I genuinely hope that papers find ways to arrest their decline.

But let us not over-estimate the value of newspapers either.  Let us note that often the guy writing the summary of the city council session isn’t that great an intellect either, and doesn’t do a lot of critical thinking – most of newspaper journalism (not all of it, but a majority) consists of people writing summaries – and not always very useful ones, rather than a serious investigation into whether those who were debating actually have other interests or will do what they say they will.  Often the summary of what the meeting means for your taxes will not be based on the journalist’s deep critical understanding of what has happened, but on his rather superficial and limited understanding – or his deep comprehension will be undermined by crappy editing and what you can get away with saying without offending advertisers.  I say this not to be mean, but because I think that journalists vary quite a bit, and some extremely successful ones, well, suck badly at their jobs. 

If that were not the case, then one would have expected at least a few major figures in the mainstream newspaper media to actually have forseen the present set of crises, rather than overwhelmingly dismissing those who did warn about them.  One would have expected any paper to have broken the coming financial collapse, the real peak oil story or even the fact that the IPCC radically understated climate impacts well before the bloggers, given their legions of paid and dedicated analysts.  Except they didn’t.  It was left to book authors,  bloggers and internet sites to do that, for the most part (there are a couple of notable exceptions, but they are usually op ed writers, and very much exceptional).  The journalists did the work of telling people what the reports *said* – and the bloggers, authors and the internet did the equally, maybe even more essential work of telling you what they *mean,* not just what one city council meant, but what the aggregate body of all the meetings, all the reports was saying.  At times, the best investigative journalism does this too – but not often enough.

And may I speak for those who do things not for payment, but simply because they love them, or they are fascinated with them, or infuriated by them?  Speaking as one of many people who began blogging not to compete with anyone, but because they simply care deeply about a subject, deeply enough that even the boring bits are fascinating, I can honestly say that there are  things that no payday can ever fuel.  If we must conceed Paul Mulshine’s fair point – that some things are boring and that it is worth spending money to make sure even the boring things get adequate coverage, can we also agree on the converse?  That there are people in the world for whom, say,  the impact of internal oil consumption on export figures is a passion, a fascination, enough to justify many hours of research that would never be done by a professional journalist, simply because no doing it would require the consent and interest of too many people up and down the editorial lines to justify the months and years of work.

There are people who will spend 10-15 hours a day reading every news media piece on the financial crisis, sorting out the relevant quotations and drawing emphasis, to reveal, ultimately a picture of a financial crisis that many people imagine was unpredictable but which was, simply, unimaginable to someone who lacked the passion and energy to connect all the disparate, and, sometimes enormously dry dots.  They will do this for less than a burger-flipper might get paid, less than a journalist straight out of college, and they will get up and do it again the next day for the same shitty bits of money, because they want to know and they want other people to know.

There are people who are motivated by things that are not money – by doing good work, and adding to public discourse, by the praise of others with the same interests, by coming to coming to some version of a truth, by saving others from suffering or by the sheer joy of coming up with a new way of thinking about things.  They get their training in a host of ways, and then, one morning, it occurs to them that they have something to say that no one will pay them to say, a contribution to make that they don’t need to be paid for, or perhaps they don’t need the money.  And they make it. 

And something heady and remarkable happens.  Someone else reads the idea, and sends something back – maybe an affirmation, but perhaps an argument, a dismissal, or something they hadn’t thought of.  And all of a sudden you are embroiled in a discussion, a debate, a conversation back and forth about what you know and what you don’t know.  Or, perhaps most heady of all, some thing you say, some dot you connect, some idea you offer up helps someone else.  And you see the possibilities – maybe it could happen again.  Maybe you could teach someone else how to make that cake, or why they should use regression analysis.  Maybe you could help someone understand why present day history has its roots in the enclosure acts or why Tolstoy ought to be read in these days, or how to fix your bike.  Most importantly, you can enter into a conversation – one that may go back to medieval poets or enlightment political figures or to 19th century black nationalism or to the founding efficiency engineers and one that now garners the attention of the strangest and most wonderful and fascinating people. 

Now some of this is not as noble as I make sound, and plenty of bloggers well…suck.  Their contributions to the great narrative, will be, as they say, foul breath and foul wind.  But then again, as Theodore Sturgeon put it, “90% of anything is crap, but the other 10% is worth dying for.” All of us know we’re probably in the 90%, but the chance, just the chance to be among the 10% once in a great while – or even once, when it counts, well, that’s something.  There’s no shame in trying to get there while you get a paycheck, but I admit, I don’t grasp why anyone would think there was the tiniest bit of shame in going there for free. The pursuit of excellence, and that moment when you know you’ve done something really new, well, that’s its own reward and you can live on bread and beans for quite a while for that.

My claim is not that journalists don’t get these moments of delight and passion – and get paid.  Nor do I claim that most bloggers don’t eventually have to come bang up against the question of how they value their time and make their income.  But it is true that we cannot it is manifestly rely simply upon paid professionals to get us the relevant 10% of discourse that matters - the journeyman work of journalism is valuable, but it is not all that is needed. 

The vast gaps that get filled by those with some time and some ideas – some of them bad, some of them good – suggest that the paid corps of journalists were never sufficient.  Their ability to look at the aggregate of the news and see it outside the bounds of the world the paper already portrays is limited, just as the bloggers come to be limited by the lenses they choose to look at the world through.  The bloggers need the newspapers, but it isn’t a one way need – the newspapers need us just as badly.  They don’t just need us to sell papers on their own internet sites – they need us because we are driven by something other than the obligation to produce a half column of text that quotes the city council president on the impact of the new development on the water supply, and then gets a “balancing”quote by someone so that no one can tell for sure whether there will be any real impact.  The newspapers need the person who is angry enough to actually sort through the competing claims – and the public needs them, the crazy person who isn’t yawning, who finds a secret delight in the machinations of their local politics, and in revealing it. 

And there is something to be said for independence – the question needs to be asked – why is it that not one major urban newspaper understood the full implications of the triple economic/energy/ecologic crisis?  Not one could tell their readers what they needed to know in a coherent way.  So why is that?  Is it possible the problem is that newspapers are torn between income streams – readers and advertisers.  Their readers need to know the hardest parts of the truth – and their advertisers desperately need them to conceal those truths.  Is it possible that the only people who can see some things are those who are not dependent on advertising, who can afford to tell their advertisers to go screw themselves if the reality and the advertised reality don’t match up (for the record, I find it hard to imagine Tom over at Sustainable Choice, my only direct advertiser, would ever attempt to influence my writing, but I stand ready and able to return the sun oven we bartered for the ad in the unlikely event he ever demands a retraction ;-) .)  Even if I’m being unfair here, is it possible that the demise of the newspaper has something to do with their deep unreliability in describing the reality of the past year?

It isn’t clear to me what the long term relationship between newspapers and bloggers will be, but my sense is that smart newspapers are going to have to begin to evolve one to stay in business.  And of course, bloggers, who unformly struggle with the problem of success and whether to convert to the sort of people who now need someone to at least pay for the milk, are implicated in this discussion as well.  It strikes me that many of the difficulties have been created by newspapers themselves, who see the relationship with bloggers as fundamentally oppositional, rather than interdependent.  Sure, they give their writers a space to blog, and maybe even pay them for it.  But the blogs are fundamentally secondary in most cases – perhaps that will need to change.  Perhaps the newspapers will have to admit that they are as biased as the blogs are – only in this case, biased in favor of describing the world in terms of status quo, so much so that that they cannot anticipate fundamental shifts in what reality is. 

But what I can say is this – sometimes what you give away for free gets you more in return than what you can sell.  If there’s an answer, it won’t be in selling content, or in fighting the endless and foolish battle of blog vs. newspaper, it will be in finding a way around those battles.  I don’t know what that way will be, only that it will shake out in complex and fascinating ways, and in the end, we’re going to have to find some way of covering the cost of the cow, even as some of us are handing out the free milk.

 Sharon

23 Responses to “Why Buy the Cow When I'm Giving Milk Away for Free? The Problem of Newspapers”

  1. MEA says:

    Trying again

    FWIW, my parents never susbcribed to a newspaper on the theory that the contents should be posted for free (at that point it meant on the rostrum in the forum, I beleive) or made avaible in the public library (with readers and translators for those who needed them) and reporters should be paid out of public funds. Unfortunately, they never figured out who to stop the reporters becoming mouthpieces for those who controled the public funds.

    I think there is a very basic difference between writing because that is how you want to make your living (even if you are passionate about what you write, and never write a fluff piece about spring flowers because you need the cash) and between writing because you want get the information out. It’s easier do the later with the internet.

  2. eden says:

    I completely agree – although I would put more emphasis on the newspaper’s dilemma of balancing advertising and journalism as an issue in the downfall of newspapers.

    I also think the idea of having degrees in journalism (and hiring people with them) is another contributor. If you want to be a journalist – major in the area you’re interested in reporting about – and minor in journalism. Or really, teach the basics of journalism to everyone – research, interviewing, writing, and critical thinking are important skills for all citizens. Sure the people who are best at it/enjoy it the most would end up as the professional journalists – but everyone would be able to tell the good ones from the crap.

    But having people with no economic/political/historical/science/medical background reporting on stories and they’re bound to be crap.

  3. Hausfrau says:

    I like eden’s idea – I always wonder about the historical relevance of a story. How does it compare to ancient history? How did it begin? How were things 10 years ago?

    I wonder if the guy from The Wire feels such contempt for volunteers, who pretty much keep things running in this country. Or for mothers, who get “paid” in kisses and groceries. Sure, you could argue there’s an unofficial payment of room and board, but not usually cash in the account!

    I don’t think Mr. Wire thought very deeply about his comment. I mean, who gets paid for a hobby that’s satisfying – for golfing or skiing or gardening? For me, it’s just satisfying to write and hope that my work makes a difference, somehow, some way.

  4. I just want to offer a quote I love . . . Money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for.
    ~ Virginia Woolf

  5. treebeard says:

    How about a hybrid model? A modest monthly blog subscription that could be set to automatically resubmit monthly or require a monthly redo. I would pay a couple of bucks a month for a number of the blogs that I read. If you were a blogger this might not be bad way to go.

  6. [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Why Buy the Cow When I’m Giving Milk Away for Free? The Probl… In order to start this essay on the much discussed death of the newspaper, I have to talk about television. Bear with me for a second. The tv in question was”The Wire.” [...]

  7. Marnie says:

    oh, Sharon, reading a bit like this is why i check here each day for your words.

    as far as what Simon says about respect, does he demand payment for every verbal conversation he has? blogging, as you say, is about conversation. papers are about consumption.

    i’d rather sit at your table and partake in that which you are offering.

  8. Brad K. says:

    Treebeard, Perhaps a distribution service, a micro-payment for each of several blogs? I read through Bloglines – perhaps a pay-per-click for each summary I open to read. Vary rates paid by number of subscribers per site, number of posts, number of full-post requests per month, etc. Charge me either a blanket subscription, or rack up actual charges. It might take a re-think on RSS, or maybe not. Perhaps an additional RSS/Atom etc. type connection? Syndicate blogs, or subscribe to them direct.. Maybe

    Sharon, one aspect of papers that you didn’t mention very directly – the editorial direction that the writers receive. That is, assignments are given, space allotted each issue depending on how the editor-in-chief feels will best serve the paper, then the subscribers. Remember, newspapers are in business to stay in business – publishing news and advertising is just how they chose to generate revenue.

    Newspapers beien published for hundreds of years, in one form or other. Newspapers and newspaper companies have started, flourished, and fallen by the way side. I ascribe very little cachet to either the content or the organization of a newspaper, just because it is a newspaper. Newspapers have proven fallible, criminal, slanted and biased and corrupt, as well as thought provoking, important information resources, and proactive political tools. But they always boil down to people, people that make decisions, people that mature and retire, people of character and wit, and people plodding toward the next pay day.

    The recent movie about “39 Dresses” pointed out how one editor manipulated people and stories, and lied and compromised promises. I didn’t hear of any newspapers complaining that image was unfair.

    I think one of the biggest differences with a blog, is that the blogger has a past. Is expected to know about, if not acknowledge, contributions and comments to a post from 5 years ago. Most of the time you can’t get a correction on a story, or contact the author, from yesterday’s paper.

    The newspaper journalist is crippled in his career, because he gets direction mostly from his editor, and critique mostly from his/her editor. There is no regular feedback for each and every story, no interaction with readers, no chance to learn the perceptions and interests of affected readers. And, yes, I know that some “letters to the editor” get published – as it suits the editor.

    I can envision a newspaper of the future, where each locally written piece is a blog post, open to comments. Where editors watch RSS feeds for regular contributing bloggers, and accept unsolicited blog references, to incorporate in their immediate coverage and also a body of opinion and reporting on current events consisting of blog posts incorporated from external and internal blogs.

    There is no reason to think the newspaper concept is completely dead. I hadn’t heard that the Weekly World News, for one, was threatened. WWN was accounted the “eighth highest circulating paper in the world” in Mike Myers’ “So I Married An Axe Murderer .. “

  9. Stephen B. says:

    “Even if I’m being unfair here, is it possible that the demise of the newspaper has something to do with their deep unreliability in describing the reality of the past year?”

    Absolutely.

    The reason I spend most of my reading time on the Internet and mainly in alternative news sites and blogs at that is because what I am reading online jibes far better with what I am seeing out my window and in my daily life than what I read in the newspaper does.

  10. Alan says:

    Before and after college (1965-75), I worked on what was called an “underground paper”, a weekly published in the face of official opposition, unofficial suppression (printers would refuse to print our paper at the last minute), lack of any real “journalistic” skills among the entirely unpaid staff, and the scoffing of just about everybody in the city and campus, except the hippies and radicals (a few thousand of us) who bought and read it. But we scooped the (laughable) “big city daily” with some regularity.

    Our best coup was our weekly in-depth coverage of the City Council — by our unpaid philosophy grad student reporter. The local daily’s entire coverage of city government consisted of regurgitating press releases from the City Manager’s office and occasional quotes from the Mayor.

    We did this because we understood that the local daily’s unconscionably lazy coverage wasn’t because they were poor journalists — it was because preserving public ignorance of how our city was run was very much in the interests of the local power structure and the local daily was in no way interested in opposing that power structure — in fact, quite the opposite.

    Modern newspapers are very much a part of the power structure and when viewed in that light, many of their seemingly inexplicable failures become very understandable indeed.

  11. Grey says:

    The trouble with the news media, and this coming from someone with a BA in journalism, is that we are NOT allowed to be good writers. We are not allowed to speak the truth, we are not allowed to be hard-hitters, we cannot say anything about the economy being bad because then it’s OUR fault if the shit hits the fan and besides that, it could upset the holy, almighty Advertiser.

    I agree that the advertising – the very thing that actually supports a newspaper’s survival – is also at fault for its demise. I can’t bother to read the majority of the “news” because it isn’t news. It’s flim-flam, soft-tissue, boring crap.

    MANY people saw an economic crisis on the horizon, including yours truly. No matter what I would say to my friends, because it came from me and not the media itself, it wasn’t believed that there was a housing bubble and that the value of their homes would not continue to climb madly upward. Anyone who bothered to think for themselves and look at a few facts and a little of history would have figured it out – but any journalist who wanted to talk/write about it would have found his/her tongue nailed to the floor.

    If they are to survive, they are going to have to charge for the paper or the news, and not depend so heavily on the big bucks from advertisers. If they so choose, they could embrace the new medium of the Internet – after all, paper and ink and delivery costs are prohibitive – and work toward having a system where people pay to read the good news. The garbage the news media has been putting out SHOULD be free – people will learn to pay for quality information, if they don’t already value it.

    And there, folks, might be the rub: the vast majority of Americans don’t care to be informed. It’s only the handful of us that DO care that would support such research.

  12. Tickmeister says:

    Art (music, dance, painting, writing, etc.) is rewarding to the performer, thus a lot of it will be done. 90 to 99% of the output does not appeal to enough people to generate any meaningful compensation. Artists need to accept that. Art is what you do after lunch has been procured.

    My niche is old time music/dance which I do well enough to get paid for, but not much. There are roughly 10,000 other things that I can do that will pay more per hour. I have simply resolved to do my art, but never intentionally rely on it for money. Maybe slightly unfair to my friends who are professionals. My opinion is that even though I love them, they made bad career choices in terms of compensation.

    Those who say nothing should be done unless compensated simply need to go pound sand.

    As to newspapers, I have mostly sworn off after a lifetime of daily reading. The nearest big city paper degenerated into a cover to cover campaign ad for the Messiah Obama over the last year or so. I began to feel the every time I bought it I was making a 75 cent contribution to the Democratic National Committee. I am not a Democrat, so they too can pound sand.

    If I were dictator (beneveolent of course), there would be much very compact sand.

  13. Tickmeister says:

    I wish I didn’t spell benevolent with 4 e’s.

  14. Carol says:

    I don’t trust the paid media. Haven’t for years. I do listen to Bloomberg and read online newspapers, especially when cited by bloggers. However, I do not believe much of what the paid media says, simply because its effect, regardless of intent, is to reinforce the status quo ideas, like Growth is Essential and It Must Go On Forever Or We Will All Die, and other such nonsense. But what do you expect, they’ve got to earn their money.

  15. Greenpa says:

    Having given away most of my work, for most of my life, I am familiar with that problem.

    It’s really pretty complex, as you clearly see. My reasons include the fact that a good deal of my professional work was so far out there that no one was ever going to pay me for it- there was no other way to get it done.

    There is a long-term downside though, which I don’t see mentioned here. (Besides the fact that you tend to wind up broke, like me.)

    “The World” makes quick judgments about your personal worth- based on what others have been willing to pay for your skills.

    After 30 years, I have a small number of people who know what my expertise is truly worth. And a vastly larger number who consider my input- worthless. Hey, nobody has ever paid me for it- so-

    Granted- the QUALITY of those who know me is extremely high- and the general quality of those who do not value my skills is questionable- still, in terms of getting projects accomplished, the assessment of the majority is useful, and important.

    Long discussions possible. Anyway- here’s a question to keep in mind; is what you are doing of real value to society? Society is willing to pay those who make real contributions; cheerfully. Nurses, doctors, cops- mostly we don’t begrudge their support from the community.

    It CAN make you more effective- if you can add the fact that somebody thinks what you do is so important; gosh, they pay you for it.

  16. greentangle says:

    “How little respect do you have for yourself to give away your work for free.”

    How indicative of someone who asks, “What’s in it for me?” and who views life as an individualistic race instead of as a group journey.

  17. dewey says:

    Not all bloggers pretend to be above the financial motive. Ilargi over at Automatic Earth, who is today touting your support, is becoming an increasingly aggressive panhandler. Today he writes: “We have managed to save a lot of you a lot of money, for instance by telling you to get the hell out of the stock markets. The flipside of that is that we have undoubtedly saved you -combined- millions of dollars, whereas our Christmas fundraiser so far is stuck well below $10.000. There is something wrong in that.”

    Well, since I do not have money to play with stocks – and would not take it out of the market on his say-so if I did, as proven by the fact that I continue to contribute to my meager retirement fund – he hasn’t saved me anything. And it is convenient to read financial news copied on his site rather than going to multiple individual sources, but this is not a service for which I would pay much, especially since the original sources are also online and are free. If he wants to parlay his blog into profit, perhaps he should start a subscription newsletter which could be marketed to his current fans, or follow your lead and write a book if he has the expertise and interest to do so. It is not reasonable to hope that most web users will pay for access to the opinions of an anonymous person of unknown qualifications.

  18. Anna Synick says:

    Having my own cow and giving away the milk I have left over (after what we need ourselves and what I use to make cheese and yoghurt) I think the hardest is to get your own head around the change in mindset for the new future we are facing. I was told in the beginning I should sell the milk to cover the cost of keeping my cow, but I found that people around me simply are not yet ready to pay money for goods that they can get in the supermarket. I firmly believe this will change in the not too distant future and then perhaps also the view of not valuing yourself when you give foods away will change as well. Admittedly I now only give my milk to people who do really appreciate it and love the taste of real milk, not just to anyone. The fact that they are happy receiving the milk and love drinking it is a show of appreciation and valuing my efforts of handmilking in itself as well. I now don’t see it as giving stuff away for free – I simply see it as not letting my extra milk go to waste and pouring it away as I know some others do. The whole money earning concept will change as money will start losing its value – this will be a big change to get used to for all of us I’m sure.

  19. edde says:

    Hi Sharon,

    Good piece.

    If we look at who owns newspapers and what return they expect on their investments, we see an underlying problem. Many papers are owned by national syndicates and investment groups that expect massive profits, in the 20% range, I’ve read.

    Inadequate journalism comes directly from that emphasis on the bottom line – too much money returns to investors rather than being spent on coverage.

    Yet democracy requires an informed electorate. Most of my neighbors are not on the internet, don’t own computers. How do we, my neighbors and I, get information critical to good decisions?

    I, too, participated in underground newspapers. Also helped found a local weekly, now defunct. Both are sort of proto-blogosphere, yet still relevant to computer nonparticipants

    Money for writing, photography, art, layout and printing was in short supply but once a reasonable readership threshold was reached (around 10k readers), survival money could be earned. Not big profits, but enough to offset journalists’ expenses, some small payment for effort.

    Frugal “small is beautiful” jurnalist types could make a reasonable living.

    My sense is that what is needed is a local “free” news weekly, widely distributed in the community, supplemented by online daily coverage, blogs, readers’ comment & contributions. It can be funded by local businesses, subscriptions and such. If the paper were collectively owned by its participants, writers, business managers, subscribers and business sustainers, it might make a go of it, even in this downsizing economy.

    Of course, it would need to provide good coverage of important issues, both local and from the wider world, and provide useful commentary. It should provide practical info, do-it-yourself pieces, and such. And provide useful advertising services to local small business.

    It needs to be committed to small “d” democracy, based in truth, free of status quo bias and unfettered by any of its constituencies’ demands other than the public’s need to know.

    Wouldn’t hurt to have a good comic section, excellent writing, lots of photos & art, coverage of local culture & participant sports and make sense.

    What is amazing, that when the initiating call goes out in a community bereft of a decent local paper, many people are willing to help. High school & college journalism classes can be invaluable, particularly teachers. Activist community usually throw in…

    I guess I better get up off it and get to work, eh. Stay tuned.

    edde

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