The Morality of Paywalls and the Future of the Internet

Articles at The Times (of London) now sit behind a paywall: two bucks a day or four bucks a week; The New York Times is building a paywall as you read; The Christian Science Monitor now publishes its paper weekly instead of daily. Major news organizations are changing, but will paywalls work? Nobody knows. Indeed what drives the development of paywalls at present, and those opposed to their creation, are not financial calculations, but, at base, moral ideas about journalism and the Internet.


The figure head of the paywall camp is undoubtedly Rupert Murdoch and his omnipresent News Corporation. Leading the opposition is Clay Shirky: artist turned artist-techy who has both a good grasp of the facts and an innovative vision of the future. But the two men steer boats that pass each other in the night: Murdoch is much preoccupied with saving his business and, along with it, capital-J journalism. Shirky, on the other hand, prefers to consider the Internet as a whole and, importantly, sees the fate of paywalls running parallel to the fate of the Internet. And that the Internet is not easily partitioned is one of its most wonderful characteristics, says Shirky.

It will be impossible to arrive at anything like a conclusion by listening to the ideas of Murdoch and Shirky because they have different start and end points. Murdoch, looked at in good light, is a warrior for good journalism, the kind that needs funds for its investigations, and the kind that pays its writers enough to eat. Murdoch’s vision for the Internet, however, is not nearly as forward looking as Shirky. It’s not at all surprising. Murdoch is 79. Shirky is 45.

More the futurist, Shriky says, “Let a thousand flowers bloom to replace newspapers; don't build a paywall around a public good.” I’m inclined to say that, as The Christian Science Monitor suggests, nobody will be too broken up about losing newspapers, but losing journalism? That’s another question. How good will the public good of journalism be in a world where people don’t pay for news?

Firstly, as this Prospect Magazine article points out, it’s hardly free in the first place. Only after buying a computer, then an Internet subscription, are you’re ready to read the “free” news. But the point is that worthwhile investigations take time and money. That’s a truth I don’t see the future changing radically, but like Shirky, I say let a thousand flowers bloom. 

'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
  • Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
  • Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
Keep reading Show less

In U.S. first, drug company faces criminal charges for distributing opioids

It marks a major shift in the government's battle against the opioid crisis.

George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The nation's sixth-largest drug distributor is facing criminal charges related to failing to report suspicious drug orders, among other things.
  • It marks the first time a drug company has faced criminal charges for distributing opioids.
  • Since 1997, nearly 222,000 Americans have died from prescription opioids, partly thanks to unethical doctors who abuse the system.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists create a "lifelike" material that has metabolism and can self-reproduce

An innovation may lead to lifelike evolving machines.

Shogo Hamada/Cornell University
Surprising Science
  • Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
  • The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
  • The researchers were able to program metabolism into the material's DNA.
Keep reading Show less

Calling out Cersei Lannister: Elizabeth Warren reviews Game of Thrones

The real Game of Thrones might be who best leverages the hit HBO show to shape political narratives.

Photo credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren argues that Game of Thrones is primarily about women in her review of the wildly popular HBO show.
  • Warren also touches on other parallels between the show and our modern world, such as inequality, political favoritism of the elite, and the dire impact of different leadership styles on the lives of the people.
  • Her review serves as another example of using Game of Thrones as a political analogy and a tool for framing political narratives.
Keep reading Show less