The high cost of something for nothing.

Author:Bramham, Daphne

Why pay when you can get stuff free? The Internet has not only fuelled the desire to get something for nothing but has allowed people to believe that only the stupid pay for music, movies, video games--or news.

There's a certain reckless, albeit anonymous, bravado in this stick-it-to-the-man-and-the-big-corporations attitude. But it's a chimera that defies the most basic principles of economics. While everybody seems to accept that it takes millions of dollars to make movies, people either don't realize or don't care that it also costs millions of dollars to produce daily newspapers, which even in these troubled times remain the primary source of investigative reporting.

Perhaps people don't care because, traditionally, advertising produced so much revenue that the owners were able to sell their product at far below cost. Even in markets where the subscriber base is stable, a dollar a copy for a metro paper doesn't come close to covering production costs. But for almost everyone under 35, paying anything is too much. And why would they pay? In newspapers' rush to embrace the Internet, publishers have been giving away more and better information free online than they provide to their loyal paying subscribers. Check almost any North American newspaper on any given day and there will be at least one story that you would really like to read, but can't unless you go to the website.

Lost in the enthusiasm over all that information available for nothing on the Web is the fact that it costs both time and money to hit gold. There are almost equal amounts of junk and jewels on the Web, and that's not counting the porn and the scams. Sifting through information is what journalists do. What's more, newspapers are a major source of the information for twitterers, bloggers and so-called citizen journalists, as well as the mainstay of Google News. There's a reason for that. Newspapers are trusted to do good journalism on a wide range of subjects.

Social cohesion may survive without the shared experience of blockbuster movies or everyone knowing the latest about Britney Spears. But can our democracy survive without news--without shared knowledge of what is happening in the local community, the province, the country or the world? What happens if there is nobody at City Hail or the courthouse to report on what happens? What if there are no journalists filing freedom of information requests, asking difficult questions or ferreting out the stories that...

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