Edward Wasserman is Knight professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University. Here’s what he thinks about one of journalism’s central dilemmas:
I’ve long argued that news is best understood not as a consumer product, but as a professional service. People buy a paper or go to website not to consume a good, but to renew a relationship with an informant they trust.
That’s not to say readers don’t want to be amused or don’t like reading the comics and hearing about celebrity bust-ups or money-saving recipes. And they aren’t passive receptacles: They’ll make vigorous use of new media feedback channels to dispute, correct, redirect and enrich the news they get.
But what this suggests is that ultimately, people look to journalists for a special service — keeping them on top of what they need to know. They can’t say exactly what that is, any more than journalists know in the morning what they’ll report that day. But they trust the news source to tell them.
Okay, so news is a service not a product. Am I missing something? I think I am. Whether it’s a service or a product, a news organization must cultivate an audience willing to pay for content or an audience receptive to advertising messages. Ideally both.