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The Free Content Model Devastating to Journalists

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NYTimes journalist David Carr decries the alarming trend in the new media age of vast fortunes being built on the backs of free labor:

There have been reports in The New York Times and elsewhere that Facebook is now valued at $50 billion, and The Wall Street Journal reported that Twitter had been in low-level talks with both Google and Facebook, with some estimates putting the value of the company at $10 billion. Tumblr, the short-form blogging service, is storming along a similar, if more demure path, while Quora, a site built on user-generated questions and answers, seems to be on its way. And at the beginning of last week, The Huffington Post agreed to be sold for $315 million to AOL.

The funny thing about all these frothy millions and billions piling up? Most of the value was created by people working free.

While the internet had created an explosion of creativity, individualism and some truly unique content, it has undoubtedly had a negative impact on serious journalism. As Carr points out:

For those of us who make a living typing, it’s all very scary, of course. It’s less about the diminution of authority and expertise, although there is that, and more about the growing perception that content is a commodity, and one that can be had for the price of zero.

In the long run, this cannot be good for journalism. If its value continues to decline in the free content frenzy, it stands to reason that its standards will decline too. Journalists are working longer hours for less and less, and careers in the industry are looking far less appealing than they did a generation ago. Talented journalists will simply pack up shop and look to other industries for work (and I know many of them), leaving the heavy lifting to others less equipt to handle the complexities of serious reporting.

Working on interesting projects for peanuts is fun when you're young, but as responsibilities pile up, the novelty wears off pretty quickly.