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July 11, 2011





Phew! That was a slog! Having waded through your prolix word swamp, I understand that what you're basically saying is:

1. I like The Guardian (a lot)
2. I don't know how are newspapers like it going to survive when they make no money (maybe a state subsidy?)

Thanks a lot. Now please go back to your ivory tower and come back when you've got something interesting or new to say.

In the meantime I'll read commentary on media and politics from people who know something about it.

Will Davies

Come back where? To my own blog?


Yeah, shut up Will. Why should I come to your blog if you're not going to just give an unrepresentative precis of your thoughts?

Right, I'm off to howl at Will Self and Michael Rosen.


Is there not a possibility that "free" simply levels the entire newspaper industry, taking the Guardian *and* the NOTW down with it?

There's a long-term decline in the newspaper industry, which Murdoch has only been able to fight by courting controversy with Kelvin McKenzie in the 80s (until Hillsborough became a bridge too far) and Royal scandal in the 90s (until Diana went and died on them) and the steady supply of gossip about third-rate footballers and murder victims that has kept them in business since then has finally turned out to have been based on systematic criminality (does this cycle remind you of any other industry fond of using its political influence to defend its incumbent position?). We might lose the Guardian, but we've already seen the back of the NOTW, and as things stand it's hard to argue that British public life is any worse off. If we reject "free" and save the Guardian, is the price the continued survival of the Murdoch press?

I agree that there's an open question about how investigative journalism is to be funded in a post-"free" world. And I don't think that looking to open source software really helps, because most software performs a fairly predictable function with clearly apparent benefits, whilst investigative journalism is, as you say, unpredictable. My gut instinct is that it should involve funding the investigators and not the newspapers; I haven't bought a copy of the Guardian in the last year, but I did buy Nick Davies' book. Or to put it more bluntly, I'd happily give Nick Davies, say, a hundred quid a year, but I wouldn't give a penny to Polly Toynbee, and buying the Guardian doesn't really give me much of a choice in that regard. Can the Guardian stay alive long enough to figure out how to make that work, even assuming it would work?

Andy Hopkirk

Great post...I liked the linked The Liberal article too. I spend most of my working time in IT-land where, as you note, varieties of 'free' proliferate. The intersection of 'free' with public procurement policy - i.e. the rules for spending public money - is currently 'difficult'. I've not quite put my finger on it yet, but you're onto something here about balancing short term and long term £ and other non-£ gains for the agents/ actors/ players in the game. Hmmm... Thanks.

Will Davies

Rob: interesting points. Clearly there are a number of individuals who start to behave like 'institutions', in the current media landscape. One also thinks of someone like Chris Morris, or Steve Coogan on Newsnight last week. And it maybe that these individuals could establish some sort of micro-payments system or grant-giving culture. But this may also under-estimate the importance of organisations, in addition to networks. The Guardian may have to contribute to the cult of celeb journos (Charlie Brooker etc, and no doubt Toynbee is a hero to some), but surely it provides an institutional backdrop for people such as Nick Davies that can't be entirely ignored. Perhaps, anyway.

Andy: thanks!


Damm, I was hoping to start the 'knighthood for Nick Davies' campaign. Consider me the first member.


No disagreement with the thrust of your argument, just your characterisation of copy-left.

Copyleft, in the Free Software sense, is completely dependent on a strong copyright regime. The GNU GPL uses copyright law to maintain the freedoms of the users and developers of software.

The FSF strongly disassociates and distances itself from the copyright infringement that you appear to be alluding to.

Will Davies

James - Apologies if I implied that copy-left endorsed copright infringement. I really meant to imply that there was a general critique of the enforcement practices of various commerical rightsholders, which I agree is quite a different issue, not necessarily connected to copyright law as such.

Tom P


Dick Pountain

Will - I agree entirely with your analysis of the need for serious intellectual work to get paid for somehow. However I'm not convinced that a subscription model (a la Murdoch) will ever work - the free-beer brigade are right about that.

The only soluton I can see is to make ISPs legally responsible for collecting copyright micro-payments on every packet that passes through their servers. This would be a massive technical challenge, involving modification to hardware and net protocols; it would be hugely unpopular and the ISPs would squawk like scalded hens (offering them a percentage of collections might help a bit); it would require a political will that there's no evidence exists in any party. But I see no long term alternative.

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