Richard Stengel: “What concerns me is that the news business will cleave into the Haves and the Have Nots”

From a story on by Richard Stengel headlined “A Sharpening Divide Between the Haves and Have Nots”:

I’ll stick to the news business, which is what I know a little bit about. I’m generally pretty bullish, but what concerns me about the future is that the news and information business will cleave into two broad categories based on audience: the Haves and the Have Nots.

The Haves — the 200 or so million college educated folks around the world — will have bespoke and sophisticated content that is tailored to their individual interests that they will pay for with premium subscriptions. Heck, they’ll have online news concierges that answer their questions and create colorful pie charts and personalized tutorials.

The Have Nots — pretty much everybody else — will have advertiser-supported content that is broad and less sophisticated and it will be stoked by algorithms based on emotion and eyeballs. And they will not have access to all the premium stuff — first-class journalism — which will be behind walls. This latter group will then become susceptible to ever greater quantities of mis- and disinformation while the Haves tsk-tsk about all the junk news that most everybody else is getting.

This isn’t a healthy situation for democracies. I’ve long been an advocate for a kind of E-ZPass for news — micro-charges per page — which would allow people to read what they want without onerous subscriptions. That’s the only way that most people will pay for news.

If the quality press, as it used to be called, is just serving global elites, well, then the whole point of the First Amendment becomes empty. We have freedom of the press so the press can protect our democracy — not so that it can make money from high-end subscriptions. We need to think as much about the purpose of news as we think about the economic models for it. Neither is easy.

Richard Stengel is the former editor of Time magazine and the author of “Information Wars: How We Lost the Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It.”

Speak Your Mind