It's a social world out there.

It Made Me Think…

Posted on: January 19, 2010

After watching the Future of Journalism hearing given to the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation I had to think long and hard about many of the comments made during the hearing. Much of what was said is going unnoticed by Web 2.0 users. Each day millions of people log in to hundreds of social media sites to gain access to information. The kind of information they find online, generations before them found through the airwaves, via newspaper and more traditional media such as television. These kinds of services that have provided  news and entertainment to the world have almost always come with a price.  The internet and the news it now provides in a minute-by-minute format is gaining momentum over traditional journalism.  Newspapers readership has been on a steady decline for years. Big name publishers have been closing their doors in major cities across the country, all because readership in looking to the internet where news services are often free.

I knew these things were going on, I’ve kept pretty up-to-date on why, where and when these companies are choosing to back out of the newspaper industry, but someone had not considered how this was changing journalism and investigative reporting.  Some of the comments made about how these changes are making tenure newspaper reporters feel are intriguing. These journalists took pride in a craft they had worked long and hard at perfecting. They went to go everyday to research stories, find leads and produce results like Watergate. Today, anyone can call themselves a journalist, anyone can write for the world to see, and many of these, untrained, people are quite successful in doing so.  Does this mean we are losing out on what was once a trade, a skill that took time to learn and perfect?  When high school students go to college and study journalism what does that mean they want to be? What kinds of jobs will these people hold?

These questions lead me to ponder how social media is most often free of charge, thus many of the people who produce information are not being paid.  Twitter has little to no form of income, people just share news, the same goes for Facebook and Craigslist. These kinds of services have led many away from searching classifieds and looking to the newspaper for news. I wondered, “Can this change? Could these free services begin charging their users fees?” Sites like Flickr begin with a free service but if users want to get the most from the site must upgrade and pay a small fee, could sites like facbeook and twitter employ this same idea? I turned to my facebook to the answer. Asking, “Working on some grad school research and need your help FB friends! How many of you would pay for social media outlets you use? Things like twitter and facebook…if yes how much would you consider reasonable?” All told I got 19 comments,  12 of those said they would absolutely not consider paying, 5 said they would consider it and 2 said they would. My favorite comment was the following, which I feel, while blunt, holds valuable insight.

“Facebook is like smoking. Everyone says they don’t need it until they realize that it has become a huge part of their lives. furthermore, even though cig prices have doubled in the last 10 years, so has the number of smokers. people would pay….oh yes, people would pay.”

I think the above comment holds a good amount of truth. I know I would pay, online services are my main form of both news and entertainment. I need the services I use online to be productive in my professional, social and academic life. What I would pay, I am not sure. I do know that these services, if they have to could charge. Major newspaper sites like WSJ.com already charge a subscription fee for most of their content. In 2010, we are at a place where businesses not only need a website, they must put further consideration into how it will affect their business model and revenue.  Watching the senate hearing gave me so much to think about with regard to how social media and its legal implications will look in the future. I would urge you to take the time and watch it.

1) Ibargüen, Alberto (2009) Statement to US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation at The Future of Journalism hearing http://commerce.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Hearings.Hearing&Hearing_ID=7f8df1a5-5504-4f4c-ba34-ba3dc3955c61

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2 Responses to "It Made Me Think…"

I disagree with cigarette allegory. Cigarettes cause a physical addiction due to nicotine. Social media is just information. You can go without news and nothing will happen to you. There may be a wanting but it certainly wouldn’t case the kind of wanting caused by a chemical addiction. People will not pay for just having the luxury of being about to communicate. There are many ways to communicate with new ones always being invented. Google’s Wave comes to mind. Anyway, if facebook or any other social media company decided to charge, you will definitely see competitors rise up and grab those users. Flickr is the exception since they are actually providing a service; hosting of pictures. Facebook may provide a service but people only use the service since their friends are on it. Once their friends decide not to pay then three will be a large exodus to competing sites.

I see your point here. Although Facebook provides a very different atmosphere than something like Google Wave. Where Facebook can reconnect and allow conversation in a comfortable atmosphere, users that may message or comment on a status of a friend from high school, they likely will never do so through Google Wave. Wave has its advantages in communication in office and professional environments, but is much less a social tool used to reconnect friends you can find randomly through facebook. Also, I should have made it more clear that I am not advocating for social media sites charging, but simple wondering what that might look like. Thanks for the reply!

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