03/31/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Medium With the Twisted Lip

I have a cool, free app on my Blackberry Tour - WattPad - that offers "100,000 free e-books." I downloaded The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and have been reading it occasionally on the subway or when I'm waiting in a doctor's office.

The background on the Blackberry screen is a medium-dark gray and the type is white, making it easy to read, and scrolling is easy, so the reading experience is pretty good.

"The Man With the Twisted Lip" is adventure number six of the twelve original Sherlock Holmes short stories that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote for the Strand Magazine and that ran from July 1891 to July 1892.

The story is an unusual one for Holmes because no crime is committed and part of the story is set in an opium den, which was a legal operation - there were no laws against smoking or selling opium in England at the time.

The story is about a Mr. St. Clair, who, as summarized by Wikipedia,

...has been leading a double life, one of respectability, and the other as a beggar. In his youth, he had been an actor before becoming a newspaper reporter. In order to research an article, he had disguised himself as a beggar for a short time, during which he was given a very large amount of money. Later in his life, he returned to the street to beg for several days in order to pay a large debt. Given a choice between his newspaper salary and his high beggar earnings, he eventually became a professional beggar. His takings were large enough that he was able to establish himself as a country gentleman, marry well, and begin a respectable family. His wife never knew what he did for a living, and Holmes agrees to preserve Mr. St. Clair's secret as long as no more is heard of Hugh Boone.

After reading the story, I couldn't help but be reminded of the current state of the newspaper industry - that it is often more lucrative for reporters to beg (work freelance, for AOL's, or ask for donations on their blogs) than to work for a newspaper.

And begging isn't limited to individual reporters or bloggers; it's utilized by journalism institutions, too. The majority of the funding for the NPR affiliate WNYC in New York comes from listener support, as it does for all NPR affiliated stations, whose semi-annual "begathons" drive listeners nuts, but bring in the dollars.

Also, leading media scholar Robert McChesney and The Nation columnist John Nichols make a convincing case for journalism (legitimate news) organizations asking the government for subsidies in their book The Death and Life of American Journalism.

Subsides can come in many forms, such as tax breaks, changing the laws about Joint Operating Agreements (JOAs), free postage, or paid advertising and notices. Critics argue that government subsidies would mean government control - the specter of Pravda dances in their heads.

But our government is broken. It can't pass a health care bill, it can't limit outrageous bonuses to greedy Wall Street bankers, and it can't create jobs. If it can't agree on how to fix a system that is obviously broken and patently unfair, it can't possibly censor the press to which it might give reasonable subsidies.

The government is broken and so is American journalism. However, like then man with the twisted lip, journalism will find a way to live and prosper. Some local newspapers are beginning to come back to life without begging by employing the principles using Wayne Reuvers's theories and strategies as espoused in "Own Your Own Backyard," available at

Frankly, I have more hope for journalism than I do for the U.S. government. I never thought I'd say this, but most journalists are smarter and less self-absorbed than politicians - and that's a twist.