It’s just been announced that the London Evening Standard is to become a free paper (at present it’s 50p) and will most likely merge with it’s already free London Lite sibling. Now I have a number of issues about this, not least of which is that I like the Evening Standard and generally buy it in preference to the free London Lite because it’s thicker, and seems to cover the news in greater depth. (Certainly, there’s more stuff in it).

Are they really making the Evening Standard free? Or are they just renaming London Lite to “the London Evening Standard”, and then abolishing the Standard?

But aside from that, it’s clear that we’re moving to a world where we’ll get most of our written news for free, either from free advert-supported websites or from free advert-supported newspapers. And I think that could be a very dangerous thing.

Put simply, when you pay someone, they work for you. They have to provide you with the service you want, or you’ll take your money elsewhere. So we’re moving from:

The Past

Newspapers got at least a significant chunk of their income directly from the readers via the purchase cost of the papers. Those readers loved nothing more than stories which exposed the rich and the powerful, be they corporate or political. So that was what the editors and the journalists gave them.

To:

The Future

Newspapers (and web news sites) will get their income entirely from advertising or from some rich benefactor content to run an outlet at a loss as their personal propaganda arm. While they will try to entertain readers, their ultimate mission will be to run the stories their advertisers or benefactors want them to run.

Or to put it more succinctly, we’re going from a world where if your newspaper failed to cover an important corruption story you could say, “Oy! I’m not paying you 50p a day to not tell me what’s going on!” to, “Oy! I’m not paying you- Bugger…”

I’m not sure this is terribly good for democracy. And before anyone says that we don’t need paid media because they get all their news from amateur blogs, ask yourself this: How much of that is original news based on primary reporting? And how much is them just linking to, or even just copy-and-pasting, a story that ultimately came from a professional news source?

(And yes, that is exactly what I’m doing right here).