The Wire’s David Simon: ‘Newspapers Must Go Behind Paywall’

David-Simon-The-WireIf, like Chris Grayling (kidding), you are an avid watcher of The Wire you will recall a saintly newspaper man from series five called Gus Haynes.

Played by Clark Johnson, Haynes is a desk editor “who tries to hold the line against dwindling coverage, buyouts, and pseudo-news“. He is that rare thing in The Wire – a key character without a dark side, seemingly without human frailties (McNulty, Daniels, Bunk and co) nor a taste for casual violence (Omar Little).

He is the creation of David Simon (pictured), the man behind the show and an ex-Baltimore Sun man himself.

The latter may explain the hero-worship. It may also help explain where Simon stands on the current crisis that afflicts the newspaper industry.

Simon, always worth listening to, was on BBC Five Live on Sunday morning [interview starts apprx: 1:05:30].

He was speaking in Edinburgh in the wake of James Murdoch’s BBC-bashing MacTaggart Lecture.

On the BBC:

“I agree with the Murdochs about one thing: there needs to be a legitimate revenue stream for journalism. And I’m not sure in this country that if you have a subsidised BBC and they run websites … and [are] basically giving news away for free how does the private sector compete?

“There’s a legitimate critique there that says ‘I don’t know how you sustain a vibrant, independent press when it’s up against the subsidised distribution of news.'”

On the motives of profit:

“However, [James Murdoch’s] speech went beyond that (as I understand it) and the last line – ‘the only … guarantor of independence is profit’ – that reaches the Orwellian.

“The truth is, newspapers by pursuing profit relentlessly for the last two decades – even before the internet began to threaten them – marginalised their profit. They cut back their newsrooms, they cut back their product, they became weaker in effect so that they were unable to withstand the threat of the internet.

“It’s one thing if you take the profit and you pay reporters to do a better job and hire more reporters and better editors and you deliver a better product. If you just put it in your pocket, which frankly has been Murdoch’s News Corp’s [modus operandi], then what are we saying?”

How to compete on the internet:

“Newspapers have to go behind a paywall otherwise there is going to be no revenue stream to pay for journalism. ‘Information wants to be free’, that’s the cry of the internet. Unfortunately information isn’t. It costs to send send reporters and editors and photographers to Fallujah and to Helmand Province – and Washington, London and Paris.

“If that revenue stream can’t be attained there will be no newspapers. And anyone who thinks the internet in the form of citizen journalists and bloggers is going to be able to do that sort of professional work day in, day out is naive.”

Clearly, from what I’ve written before, I’m not convinced paywalls are the way to go.

Not because I don’t believe journalism is expensive and needs to be paid for. But simply, because it’s an unworkable model. And not just because the BBC is queering the pitch for the commercially-driven.

 – ‘I Consider Google News A Gift, Newspapers Consider It Theft.’
 – Fox News Anchor To Rupert Murdoch: ‘Mr Chairman Sir, Why Are You So Great?’
 – Chris Brown, JK Wedding Entrance Dance And Unintended Consequences
 – Free is just another cover price
 – What if the business model for news ain’t broke?

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