Because the belief that links create value serves the interests of Google and other aggregators better than it serves journalism Links alone do not create value. The real value is inherent in the original journalism. I accept that readers will only pay for high quality reporting, analysis and commentary and that they will not want to part with money for churnalism. But that is a good thing. Quality journalism is expensive. If Rupert can pioneer a system of micro-payments that will finance foreign correspondents, subject specialists and investigations, then his decision may mark the beginning of the end of the delusion that online news should be free. After all, we all know that, in reality, it is being subsidised by declining traditional newspapers and broadcasters.
It may sound like heresy, but historians of journalism will recall that press barons in the 1920s and 1930s created newspapers that were profitable enough to be genuinely independent of political parties. The world's biggest contemporary press baron might, just, have come up with a model to keep journalism independent and capable of serving democracy in the twenty-first century. Too optimistic? Very possibly, but don't dismiss the idea. We have been told for years that millions of unique users would create revenue. They do not create anything approaching enough and it does not serve the interests of good journalism to pretend that they do. Losses at newspapers such as the Guardian, one of the biggest and most inventive internet pioneers, demonstrate that painful truth. It is better to attract 10,000 readers who pay than 5 million who do not. Even advertisers will agree about that. They want committed readers with identifiable interests, not millions of promiscuous gadflies.
Roy Greenslade (with whom I debated the topic on BBC World Service) has posted his objections to my argument on his Guardian blog. My response, in brief, is that Roy is living firmly in the past. The idea that the internet can transform journalism by introducing the perspectives of millions of untrained, unedited amateur reporters is only partially true. Of course it is tremendous to receive tweets from Iran or blogs from Tibet. I'm all in favour of that. But without editing and collation by professional journalists this is a clear case of going back to a very poor future. We had this sort of citizen journalism in the unstamped, radical press of the early nineteenth century. It was rooted in ideology not fact and prone to spread rumour. It was also easily ignored. To give the majority real power journalism needed to become fact based, accurate and sufficiently profitable to take on powerful vested interests. The rise of this type of professional journalism is vital to the survival of healthy, participatory democracy. Roy Greenslade's vision of the future would give powerful corporations vast power and individual citizen journalists none. I am the progressive here. I want a journalism that is robust enough to hold power to account.