Idiots who work by day, opine in their spare time

The old “should we have to pay for online content?” debate rears its head in the Romanesko letters section.

Eric Gillin of The Black Table weighs in with a brief letter calling the entire debate into question:

While the revenue side of the Web publishing model makes for sexier discussion than the cost side, the simple fact is that publishing over the Web is incredibly cheap for start ups, giving would-be news outlets leverage their offline brethren will never be able to match. Sadly, the people who got all the money in the dot com era squandered it on opulent parties, pricey office furniture and excessive infrastructure, instead of using old fashioned D.I.Y. elbow grease and starting small and grimy. Way down the food chain, there are many sites that do better than break even by selling ads, if only because their costs are nil….

Drew DeSilver, a Seattle Times reporter, says:

…, in its Weekly Rundown, links to such established news sources as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Reuters and Fox News. Those sources, in turn, had to pay people to actually gather the news that BlackTable piggybacks on.

Sure, there are folks who’ll write for the sheer joy of writing (which is what I assume BlackTable’s contributors are doing, since Mr. Gillin says he doesn’t pay his writers). In that case, though, they have to have some other means of support — i.e., a day job, which presumably would cut into their reporting time. And I assume Mr. Gillin himself has some other occupation to put food on the BlackTable, since he says it doesn’t make money. But is that what we want — for people to get the information by which they make
important personal and public decisions from folks who have nothing better to do in their spare time?

It’s hard enough to make a go of online journalism when you *do* rely on original content — as our brethren at Salon and the late, lamented Feed have found out. How much harder will it be if you have thousands of blogs and websites building an elaborate superstructure of commentary and snark on an ever-narrowing base of original reporting?

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