Yes We Can!

7 12 2009

It was really cold this morning– somewhere in the 30s.  I had my coffee in one hand, and the other was stuffed into my coat pocket as I walked from the bus to my office.  I work in a relatively busy part of DC, right next to the White House, but it’s usually pretty quiet in the mornings.  Young professionals in dark coats and leather shoes hurry toward their destinations without acknowledging one another, usually plugged into their headphones.

This morning, a homeless man on the corner of 17th and Pennsylvania, huddled under a pile of old blankets, was playing “O Come All Ye Faithful” on his trumpet as I walked by.  After four years of living in a city, I’ve gotten pretty callous to most Christmas-carol playing street performers, but something about this song and the slow, drawn-out way he played it actually got me a little choked up.  Not only is the trumpet is one of my absolute favorite instruments, but the fact that this man sat there in the freezing cold, at 9 am, playing “O Come All Ye Faithful” as the oblivious commuters hurried by with their headphones, was just really touching.

I was on the opposite side of the street as this man, and I was running late for work, so it really didn’t make sense for me to wait for the walk signal and cross the street in the opposite direction from my office to put change in this man’s hat.  But I couldn’t make myself stop watching, and I figured that was a moment worth paying for, so I did.

I’m not sure whether music is or should be considered a commodity.  I know that it seems like if a man is going to sit outside and play a beautiful song for the public, we should all be able to enjoy that without feeling the need to dig into our wallets.  How can you assign value to a song?  The dollar I dropped into that man’s hat doesn’t come close to equaling the music he played on any scale of worth.

At the same time, art doesn’t exist without the artist, and if we want beautiful music to be played to us on the streets or anywhere, we need to ensure that those artists can afford to eat and live. After all, they are providing a service, and those of us who value that service enough should be willing to pay for it.

I feel the same way about news (c’mon, you knew I was going to segue into this).  We are getting news for free on the internet, and we all take that for granted.  But as a result of the fact that we no longer have to pay for quality news stories, millions of journalists are losing their jobs. If enough journalists lose their jobs, and enough newspapers shut down their local and international bureaus, the quality of the writing and reporting we have become accustomed to is going to sharply decline.

Whenever I bring up the possibility of newspapers charging for their websites, someone always says that it won’t work, that people will just find free news elsewhere and the websites that charge for news will fail.  These are the same people who figure out ways to download music for free, those people who feel like art and news should be a free public service, not a commodity.

But they fail to consider the fact that someone has to spend his or her entire day producing that art or that content, and that somehow, that person needs to be compensated in order to continue.  If you lose the journalist, you lose the content.  I’d rather pay a cent a page than lose the New York Times, wouldn’t you?  Wouldn’t everyone?

There are amazing news blogs out there, and I happen to work for one.  But I think blogs are a great supplement to newspapers, not a replacement.  What about the crossword puzzle? The wedding announcements?! THE ADVICE COLUMNS!

Save the newspapers? Yes we can!

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14 responses

8 12 2009
bros

does your employer know you are writing advocating for paying for news?

8 12 2009
districtramblings

I don’t think there’s a conflict of interest there.

8 12 2009
BS

I completely agree that there society has to completely rethink the structure of art, media, and journalism. This is not an easy task. It raises a lot of questions about democratic control and will require a lot of creativity and new ideas to restructure. Let’s take a portion of that defense budget that grows bigger by the minute and set up grants and foundations for artists and journalists so they can afford to eat and have health care.

But…. this is completely different than you asking to save the New York Times.

Are you kidding? Quality of Journalism? Is that a joke? Maybe in the arts and leisure section….

I would pay 1 dollar a page just to see the new york times die quicker. I have ZERO need for a news paper that considers paraphrasing white house press releases journalism.

In the words of Samuel L. Jackson, “Yes they deserve to die and I hope they burn in hell”

8 12 2009
districtramblings

Don’t be shy, BS, tell us how you really feel.

8 12 2009
bros

are you quoting john grisham novels now? hopefully not as evidence of art.

8 12 2009
BS

uhm, i was quoting the movie adaptation of a grisham novel.

and it was an example of NY times style journalism.

8 12 2009
bros

i like that movie.

8 12 2009
graber

how can you assign value to a song? well current trends suggest that you owed that gentleman 99 cents. god damn i hate itunes…a lot.

8 12 2009
frooj

This is how I feel trying to get a client to pay for architecture:

client: “I want you to design my entire house, but I’ll just pay you for the front porch.”

architect: “So…basically you want me to work for free?”

client: “No, no….this is just a test/trial to see if I like it so I can convince my wife.”

architect: “uhhhh….”

client: “Look, I’ll pay for it THIS time, but can you show me exactly how you did it so we can do it ourselves next time?”

8 12 2009
rockymtnhigh

Well I think the NY Times tried to charge for the “premium” content of their paper a while back and was primarily for the opinion pieces and a few select columns. Didn’t fare well. So it’s back to being free for you and me to read on-line. That being said, the journalist’s 9-5 job of sitting a desk in a newsroom (fades to scene of Dustin Hoffman in ‘All the President’s Men’) are over.

I don’t think the issue is that people don’t buy enough printed papers or that people expect to get their news for free but because it’s been practically “free” forever and a day from a consumer’s point of view. A month’s worth of the Rocky Mtn News, when I delivered it as a kid in the 80s was $7.25, and now? The RMN closed its doors because it couldn’t turn a profit. After a 100+ years of being in print its demise was eminent even before the digital news wave really hit.

As for the printed version, I stopped reading the newspapers a long time ago mostly because the paper consisted of 90% inserts, classified ads and car dealership plugs. So why would I pay $2+ for 3 lbs of car dealership ads and 5 pages of worthy news coverage when the content isn’t even written by said newspaper but reprinted off the AP wire?

There are certain mediums that I’m willing to pay for. Printed or digital. For daily news, I cast a wide net across several sites. NYT, BBC, the Guardian, New Republic, High Country News, DC ramblings, etc. Some are for-profit and some are non-profit.

I for one stay away from itunes for buying music. I just don’t like how they deliver and control the content (iphone apps notwithstanding). I’d rather buy direct from the artist and have a physical CD or LP. I feel the same about books. I want the printed version if it’s something I will read again and again.
So would I pay for daily news? I would if the subscription base was priced accordingly and allowed me to read several outlets.

The daily news…I think the very nature of the medium is best presented digitally because it’s changing so quickly and the way it is absorbed by today’s addled minds lends itself to 1’s and 0’s on my computer screen. It also costs newspapers twice as much to physically print versus digitally deliver. The NY Times Sunday edition uses 75,000 trees alone just to print!

I’m all for paying for good news, professional content, and saving journalists’ jobs (if they support architects in kind by hiring us to design their renovations) but I certainly don’t miss blackened fingers from reading the newspaper.

8 12 2009
bros

I don’t even read newspapers precisely due to several of my tactile phobias, newspapers and microfiber included. I simply won’t handle a newspaper.

8 12 2009
rockymtnhigh

mmm…microfiber. i suggest the underpants version.

9 12 2009
Vjane

Speaking about journalists losing their jobs to free news on the internet I am reminded about book stores going out of business because you can buy a book on Amazon or from Borders or Barnes and Noble for a few dollars less than at your small local book store. I love my small local book store. The owner is very up on authors, new books, old books – he can get me in a few days a book I want if he doesnt have it. I can buy a book, read it, give it to someone or bring it back to the book store and he puts in on a shelf of “once read books” sells it for about half price and then gives the money to our local animal shelter. You cant get any better than that. And by the way, LB I am glad you crossed the street to put your dollar in the trumpet players hat. If everyone would do that maybe he could get off the street and into an environment where he can live like a decent human being and play his music in a proper setting. My dollar goes in the Salvation Army bucket outside the grocery store. Without those volumteers and all the others, the Mississippi Gulf Coast would not have come back after being destroyed by Katrina. And Bros I like my paper. I do the crosswords for my brain, read the Opinion page and get mad at everyone who dont agree with me and then I look at the obituary page to be sure I haven’t died.

9 12 2009
frooj

For all you Diane Rehm fans, her podcast yesterday addressed how government programs to employ artists served the nation during the Great Depression and could offer a model for creating jobs today. Art and the New Deal.

http://wamu.org/programs/dr/09/12/08.php#29173

11:00Roger G. Kennedy: “When Art Worked” (Rizzoli)

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