Belated reaction to the Freakonomics/newspaper micropayments discussion

After finally getting around to reading the New York Times’ Freakonomics Quorum on micropayments in journalism, (thanks to @ccadelago I was primarily struck by the lack of evidence any of the contributors offered. There were lots of assertions about how people of all stripes* but little to back up how we know what we say about them.

Now, I’m aware of the forum involved. Newspapers and their Web sites have never been places for in-depth academic discussions, and I don’t expect them to create one here. Also, as you may have noticed, I’m no savant when it comes to the right new business models for journalism. And I also want to clarify that, in the abstract, I found many of the reasons the panelists offered compelling.

But I also know humans are prolific at studying ourselves. At least some of them probably are relevant, at least tangentially, to discussions about how to best structure news business models (who’s the target or actual audience? (also here) What do they want? What are they like?). We couldn’t pull out some older research and say, “While not exactly analagous to the situation today, this has these useful similarities (and here’s why).” But no one offered such support, or hedging when it comes to research that contradicted his conclusion.

So I ask this honestly: Is it the case that people are so changed by the Internet that whatever reseach we have on what they want or how they act is made irrelevant? And if so, why?

I ask this knowing full well that there likely is tons of writing about journalism out there that incorporates the kind of research I’m curious about. I’ve even read some of it. I just haven’t found as much as I want yet. So please, point me to what you know. I’m eager to learn more about this.

…or am I just being too hard on everyone involved?

* e.g. Alan Mutter: “Consumers might not like being micro-nickled and nano-dimed for every article, but they would get over it if the content were sufficiently unique and compelling. Remember, this works only if the content is unique and compelling.”

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