“How much is my daily news from you worth?” a woman from Kentucky recently asked us in an e-mail. “I know I am not contributing enough.”
Her e-mail arrived in the context of some large newspapers shutting down (Rocky Mountain News) or moving online only (Seattle Post-Intelligencer), and a renewed public dialogue over the nature of information and when it should be free.
A recent article in The Atlantic had her wondering about paying for online news and information. Of course, strategies for wringing a cent out of a news and information Web site are many and varied:
- a primarily ad-driven model that makes all content free;
- tiered access (e.g., some articles are free, while others require subscriptions, or logins that come with a print product);
- most content is not free and must be paid for in one way or another (e.g., monthly or yearly subscriptions).
A Time magazine article recently suggested that the future of profitability in online news and information lies in a nickel-and-dime approach, wherein readers will pay 5 cents, for example, for any story they want to read. Payments across multiple information sources could be handled by a central payment processing service—something like an iTunes for news. Five cents sounds reasonable, right?
“I just think news should be free,” said one of my mass media students as we discussed the nickel-and-dime strategy. His comment garnered the support of at least half the class. His comment bore the belief that news provision was a public interest (and should therefore arrive gratis), though it probably had more to do with his millennial mindset—words on the Internet aren’t worth paying for.
“But you pay 99 cents for a song,” I countered, fishing for a rebuttal. It came in the argument from another student that a song forms part of a collection and gets multiple uses, whereas news has no long-term appeal. In her view, it wasn’t even worth a nickel and possibly not even a red cent.
Several beliefs and trends are mingling in this digital, societal moment:
- Why pay for something if you can get it, or something that resembles it, for free? (So, if the New York Times wants to charge you for news story A, you’ll get coverage of said story from another source, even if it’s less credible, because it’s free.)
- We don’t really value news. (At the end of the day, most people only pay for things they value. Chances are you value having access to the Internet, and you’re willing to pay for it. This fact means Internet Service Providers (ISPs) aren’t in danger of shutting down soon.)
Back to the woman from Kentucky. Her comment gave the impression that she valued what she got from EthicsDaily.com. I’m not sure what she valued most: the editorials from Robert Parham, news from freelancers in various states, columns and blog posts from savvy observers in these fast-paced times, thoughtful media reviews, or some of the other services we provide free of charge.
Perhaps she valued the net effect of EthicsDaily.com, believing that it is more than the sum of its parts. One interesting part is that when someone Googles “Baptist ethics,” for example, a link to EthicsDaily.com is the top result. But that’s only a part; we believe this is about much more than fun statistics.
It’s about bearing witness: witness to who Baptists have been, are and can be; witness to working with others and advancing the common good; witness to common sense and courage, to peace and practicality.
So how much is EthicsDaily.com worth?
I’m not sure that question can be answered in nickels, dimes, clicks and links. It can’t be answered in an article or in a speech, in an e-mail or in a DVD.
I suppose it’s worthless to the person who won’t pay to support it, but priceless when one contemplates a public square without its voice—a collective that emphasizes love of God and love of neighbor.
This voice may be best represented by these words from Robert Parham: “Those in the Christian community have little clear perspective save that of Jesus. And in times of such horrific violence and unspeakable sadness, his teachings must be the guiding rule.”
Those words went to our e-newsletter subscribers on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001. When clarity was needed, clarity was offered.
We hope, and believe, you find value in that.
Cliff Vaughn is managing editor and media producer for EthicsDaily.com.