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Does Information Want to Be Paid For?

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The old news media believes that all of the stuff it's been giving away for free for a decade or more it ought now get the reader to shell out for. My friends Steve Brill and Gordon Crovitz (Gordon is on Newser's advisory board), with long-time cable executive Leo Hindery, are starting something called Journalism Online (a terrible name), which hopes to be an iTunes-like store for, well, journalism.

Here's a brief recap of how publishers originally came to give away their store: The early and fierce Internet mantra on the part of the digital elite was about information wanting to be free. Sharing was the Internet's singular function. So from the get go, traditional publishers found themselves not only competing with free information, but also wanting to be cool digital guys themselves, and, as well, to get as many "hits" as possible -- free, therefore, became everybody's approach. This was okay until publishers figured out they couldn't make in online advertising what they used to make in old-fashioned advertising and that the Internet was destroying their profitable businesses.

Hence, the big panic.

The proposition now is that there will be "official" content produced by "official" journalists that will be paid for, existing like an island amid the sea of Internet content, which will be free. The idea is that the former is so evidently more valuable than the latter consumers will line up with their credit cards.

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