(*yes, yes, I know.)
Newspapers are crumbling—people get their news from the internet, simple as that. So the papers are moving to online only. The thing is, there isn’t a strong enough business model to support them there, either. People are trying out other models, like charging for online content, or withholding news from the internet for a few days. But those models aren’t going to work… information tends towards freedom. So journalists are screwed, there isn’t any way to pay them anymore.
People who primarily create information for a living, such as professional authors, journalists, designers, and many musicians and artists, are either in crisis or will be approaching crisis. Honestly, even though I am currently part of it, I don’t think the world needs a class of professional artists. I think that in a sane and functioning society (which we are most certainly not in), it is likely that we would need to put our creativity elsewhere, such as into recycling. But journalists? Indymedia paved the way for citizen reporting, but reporting was soon buried under the blogosphere’s focus on commentary and relinking.
It’s possible that we’re going to have a period without news. It’s possible that the old system will die before a new method replaces it. But when I think of what can possibly replace it, I think again and again that the only thing I can imagine working is a system of mutual aid… either of gift economics or of localized economic systems. A system of anarchism. (Yes, yes, I’m an anarchist, of course I say this.)
The internet makes copying something that can be done essentially for free. This means that a copy of information no longer has inherit worth… there is no reason to pay for a copy of a PDF file, as that individual copy cost nothing to produce. Subscription-only content online is not holding up. So how is a journalist to be paid?
Maybe they aren’t. Gift economics is the idea of decentralized cultures that support one another by free exchange (that is, giving without keeping track of direct reciprocation). It works quite well in practice, even if it takes a bit to wrap your head around logically. As long as any given member of society is giving in to the system through whatever they are capable of doing (waste management, gardening, dentistry, cooking, etc.), there are no real “gaps” that resources escape out of, since everyone who receives from the system gives to the system as well. Of course, minor resource leaks like feeding travelers can usually be accommodated, depending on the general level of wealth of the society. The general level of wealth of the society would also determine what kind of specialization they can afford: can people get away with doing something non-essential, like composing music, as their source of income?
Another option is a Localized Economic System. They’re kind of like gift economics, only people keep track, usually through a database of some kind. These differ greatly from capitalism, even though money is still involved: there is no ability to use money (capital) to make more money. The only way to earn LETS (as the money is called, at least locally here in Asheville) is to actually receive them from someone, or by doing something that receives LETS from the system itself, like managing the LETS system, or potentially, by doing journalism. By doing something that provides for the entire community.
Traditional methods of payment are becoming obsolete. It’s time to try something new anyhow. Might as well try anarchy.