No Free Lunch

Who will pay for news? CJR presents four stories searching for journalism's economic model

Journalists tend to move in packs. Not long ago we thought that the key to the business model of the new era was traffic. Journalism would migrate slowly from paid print content to free Web content—information wants to be free and all—and we would support our expensive newsrooms with the Internet ads that would ride in, bugles blowing, as thousands of visitors came to our sites. More recently came the realization, heightened by a savage recession, that the cavalry is inadequate.

So now what? In this cover package, we set four writers on the problem. Alissa Quart looks at the history of the free culture/free content movement and what it has wrought. Peter Osnos probes the link economy, asking what’s fair in the age of Google. David Simon, creator of The Wire, argues that what will save newsgathering is the courage to erect a paywall and take a stand behind it. And Michael Shapiro makes the case for a hybrid, a savvy mix of free and paid content that, combined with other income, could save the day—if we first rethink what we’re offering. What’s clear is that the free lunch is gone, and hard choices are waiting.

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.