Matthew Yglesias notes today that “The problem for everyone trying to make money on the internet…is that ad rates on the web just don’t bring in very much money. In England, two of the best sources of information, the BBC and the Guardian, are already run as non-commercial enterprises and I have a feeling that more and more of the serious newsmedia will come in that form in the future.” Jacob Weisberg made exactly the same point earlier today at the Future of Broadcasting panel here at the IPI Helsinki conference.
Actually Weisberg made the point even more sharply: if you think of basically any news organization that has produced top-notch journalism, it’s almost certain to have been subsidized in some way. He mentioned the BBC and the Guardian, PBS and NPR, but also the fact that all of the top American newspapers, the NYT, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post etc., have been run by public-spirited families that never sought to maximize profit, or they would have been in a different business. In the future, Weisberg said, you have to expect that any effort to continue to guarantee good journalism is going to have to involve subsidies from somewhere. The question is where.
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