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!