Jon Stewart on saving newspapers

“You know how when you read newspapers and the newsprint comes off in your hands? What if we made that highly addictive narcotic? So that if you read it, you’d be like, ‘I gotta get my hands on another newspaper man.'”
                                                                                                                             —Jon Stewart, The Daily Show

The Daily Show

This is comedian Jon Stewart’s first solution to the revenue mess that newspapers are in these days.

The idea came up during Stewart’s recent Daily Show interview with former managing editor of Time magazine, Walter Isaacson.

Isaacson, now president of the Aspen Institute, wrote Time‘s latest cover story, “How to save your newspaper,” which suggests an iTunes style system of micro-payments for journalism.

Isaacson wrote in the article:

“I don’t think that subscriptions will solve everything — nor should they be the only way to charge for content. A person who wants one day’s edition of a newspaper or is enticed by a link to an interesting article is rarely going to go through the cost and hassle of signing up for a subscription under today’s clunky payment systems. The key to attracting online revenue, I think, is to come up with an iTunes-easy method of micropayment. We need something like digital coins or an E-ZPass digital wallet — a one-click system with a really simple interface that will permit impulse purchases of a newspaper, magazine, article, blog or video for a penny, nickel, dime or whatever the creator chooses to charge.”

He admits that many micropayment schemes have failed in the past, but says times have changed and points to iTunes and Kindle as examples.

But Stewart points out the obvious problem with all of this. How can you start charging people for something they are used to getting for free?

During the interview, Isaacson said:

“You’ve got to get away from this notion that good reporting has always got to be given away for free on the Internet. I just think you’ve got to get to some system where some journalists are getting paid for going to Bagdhad.

“You’ve got to think, who is going to send people to Bagdhad if always, everything in journalism is free?”

He stresses that the dependence on advertising for revenue threatens the relationship with readers as it allows journalists to lose sight of the all-important bond with those reading the publication.

Moving away from the addictive ink model, Stewart suggests another, more serious, solution to the revenue problems facing newspapers. He asked:

“What about giving it more of a cable TV or a radio model? Because the aggregators are the ones, the Huffington Post, the Drudge Report, those ones that link to the reporters, that don’t do any reporting of their own, but link…Why not do licensing deals, like they’re the radio station, you are the artist and do it like hits are spins and make those deals like it is a cable model or its a radio model?”