The News Business
By Arnold Kling
Steve Boriss is not such a fan of the Associated Press.
First, while its members’ businesses are shrinking, the AP has used their fees to mushroom into a huge, full-service news outlet with more than 4,000 employees working in more than 240 bureaus worldwide. Second, last September after AP members made the foolish complaint that Google News was not paying them for words in the brief synopses linking to their articles, the AP made a deal with Google News to feature the AP’s version of the story, and ignore similar stories at the members’ own sites — a move that, no doubt, has cost members a good deal of online traffic. And just recently, the AP launched a program to make its stories available on iPhones, preempting its members’ necessary efforts to restore their ability to generate and deliver their own, valuable original content.
The point is that the AP is no longer the property of its members, the newspapers. Instead, newspapers are just one intermediary using AP stories, and in that regard newspapers probably are at a long-term disadvantage compared with other intermediaries.
I’ve been consistently bearish on the outlook for newspapers. I’ll stand by the prediction that I made six years ago that they will survive on the subsidies of wealthy patrons.
But rather than worry about newspapers, suppose we worry about news per se.
In a conference presentation, Boriss argues that the printing press allowed governments to control news, using licensing to limit those who could print, prior restraint to control content, and libel laws to punish unfriendly writing. The American Revolution dramatically changed the relationship of the press to government, along the lines of Jefferson’s vision of the press as a check on government.
Boriss goes on to argue that with broadcast media, government re-asserted control over media.
The Internet, he argues, is far less controllable by government. At the same time, it leads people to change their mix of news consumption. We prefer less of what he calls the “remote-impact” news of the local/regional/national variety. We prefer more news of family and friends or news with direct professional impact.
Also, note the comments here on the increased concentration of political news consumption–fewer people are taking in politcal news, but they are taking in more of it.
I would argue that the general-purpose regional newspaper or news broadcast is an anachronism. Perhaps general-purpose regional government is also an anachronism.