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Why Rail Info and the New York Times should indeed be free

I was reading an interesting post today by Rory Cellan-Jones about National Rail Inquiries decision to cut off a free service and replace it with its own for pay version. If you asked Cote he might just say that’s the way the wind is blowing – fee is the new free – The Return of Paying for Software.

But the rail example is troubling because it gets it wrong. The company is not selling software, its providing information for customers. The genius of Web 2.0 is that its about learning from people based on how they use a service. By offering a mobile application National Rail Inquiries can glean all kinds of interesting demographic information about how people plan their journeys; where and when they do do. Frankly that information has to be worth 4 quid a year. The better play would be to offer free access, but act on the information.

Rory then wonders whether Information should not be free, after all, which brings us to the New York Times. I like the New York Times a lot. Its a solid editorial product with excellent reviews, and normally it chimes with my way of seeing the world. What it is not however is a completely trusted source. It lost that role during the Jayson Blair and Judith Miller debacles. So to come across this line in Rory’s story from New York Times editor Bill Keller struck me as a bitter irony.

“Really good information, often extracted from reluctant sources, truth-tested, organized, and explained – that stuff wants to be paid for.”

Sure I would pay for that. But I don’t trust the New York Times to give it to me. Trust is the keyword.

I used to be a journalist. I saw the rise of the press release story, which corresponded inversely with the end of the long lunch. Take the daily newspapers and read them all. They all have the same stories. Its one reason I got out: no time for research, to find those reluctant sources.

So I would say to Rory that the killer issue is not that editors and journalists made the mistake of thinking Information Wants To Be Free, but rather they failed to realise that customers wanted better journalism. [problem with this argument- the utter shite that people choose to read and watch ie FOX News].

Its no good acting like things are like they used to be. They aren’t. Newsrooms are decimated. Research is a dirty word. Half the time these days its clear a reporter hasn’t even Googled an issue before writing the story.

Invest in journalists and I will invest in journalism. Its pretty simple, really.

(free) picture courtesy of Frankie Roberto on flickr under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

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8 Responses

  1. wow. second post today Why Rail Information and the New York Times should indeed Be Free http://bit.ly/DD8XB
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  2. 2 looks at fee v. free model wrt rail info iPhone app and New York Times journalism: http://bit.ly/jkUeI versus http://bit.ly/1qKBaz
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  3. someone is watching fox. 9 of top 10 cable shows are on FNC….for the record, i watch many of them to get all sides of the story, then piece together what’s actual.

    http://www.mediabistro.com/tvnewser/ratings/q1_2009_ratings_fnc_tops_cnn_and_msnbc_combined_in_prime_time_total_viewers_112876.asp

  4. James – I think you could use the same argument you do – that customers want better journalism – and use it to make a killer case for consumers paying for it. This conflict – better journalism vs. cheaper/free information – goes to the heart of the issue.

    And you’d need to pretty old to have witnessed the rise of the press release story, sadly ;)

    @psigrist

  5. Interesting article about the fate of journalism: “Invest in journalists and I will invest in journalism” http://bit.ly/14HRBV
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  6. Peter- maybe i didn’t see the rise of the press release story, but i certainly saw the fall of the well-researched “off diary” piece. ;-)

    I pay a regular fee for music downloads every month. i also buy papers at the weekend. i will pay for journalism.

    john simonds- oh i know a lot of people watch FOX News. its still not the most impressive journalism. even without the political stance i disagree with, i hate the dumbing down of news to stories about pets, rescues, dirty mattress resellers and so on.

    James GovernorApril 6, 2009 @ 2:23 pmReply



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Continuing the Discussion

  1. Newsrooms are decimated. Research is a dirty word. Half the time a reporter hasn’t Googled an issue before writing…

    Invest in journalists and I will invest in journalism. Its pretty simple, really….

  2. [...] James Governor is het met me eens dat de gegevens voor reisinformatie op het spoor (en in hun geval ook de applicatie) gratis zouden moeten zijn en dat de vervoersaanbieders buitengewoon waardevolle gebruiksstatistieken krijgen van deze applicaties. [...]