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Mother Jones Chief: Why Should the News Be Free?

At Monday’s Personal Democracy Forum in Manhattan, I asked David Corn, chief of the Washington Bureau for Mother Jones and a blogger for CQ Politics, for his opinion on a few of the media issues being discussed at the event.

Will microblogging replace blogging?

I don’t think it will replace it. Microblogging is maddeningly frustrating because of the length of words. You don’t get to put sources in. A lot of tweets come with links to blog posts or articles so they’re more like the traditional news ticker, like when they invented the wire service news ticker. It didn’t replace newspaper stories.

Microblogging is far more convenient but it’s not enough to replace a good blog post, which goes into detail about an event or provides deeper analysis.

What impact has the for-profit model had on journalism?

Mass media’s always had to be for profit because you need the big numbers. If you look at non-profit institutions in our society- symphonies, libraries, museums – most don’t have mass market appeal.

So non-profit journalism has had and will continue to have a more important role to play in the overall field of journalism but I’m not sure it could have supported the rise of big city newspapers or certainly not the creation of major TV networks, which just require far too much capital than what you could squeeze out of non profit sources.

Should online news be free?

No. Why should anything that’s created with someone’s sweat be free? Why should people be expected to work for free? Plumbing isn’t for free. When you go to a doctor for medical advice, that’s not for free. If you send somebody to Darfur and risk their life to bring back a story, why should that be for free?

Now the internet is great and is very empowering for those of us who deal in communications and media, but it also makes it very easy to duplicate information. Information has sort of lost its moorings in the sense it used to be tied to a piece of paper, or a particular broadcast, and once you can duplicate something and pass it along for free it makes it harder to charge for that.

To survive, [newspapers] are going to have to find out ways to bring in revenue, and if it’s not advertising it’s going to have to be people paying for the product.

Do you believe the print newspaper will become obsolete?

Well, I think print will become obsolete. It may not be for 20 to 50 years, but I think that at some point in time, it’ll be mostly digital.

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Like, you can buy a few LP records now. Once in a while Pearl Jam will put out an album on vinyl. So there may be some people who do that with print. But eventually everything’s going to become digitalized. The question is ‘How soon?’ and how that transition goes.

For more public figure opinions, go to and browse the Public Figure tab.

To compare your opinions to David Corn’s, take his Comparison Wizard and see where you agree and disagree.

Geoffrey Decker is an editor for the social media start-up


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