Ain’t Nothing Free.

I was 20 years old when the LA Times plucked me out of relative obscurity after I won a couple of awards in the annual CPOY contest.  Happily, I left the serenity of Lawrence, KS to join the staff in LA as a summer photography intern.

Three months evaporated overnight.  One year later I would return to Kansas, but not before having experienced a mind expanding journey in which I photographed victims of the Hillside Strangler, Iranian riots, the poverty of Watts and several Hollywood icons.

Gail Price with her 8 month old daughter, Ailcher napping on the one bed the family of six share. ©Eli Reichman, All Rights Reserved.  ©

Gail Price with her 8 month old daughter, Ailcher, napping on the one bed the family of six shared in Watts, CA. ©Eli Reichman, 1978-2011. All Rights Reserved.

The battle for editorial space has always been contentious, with ads dictating the size of the daily news hole.  A weird and complicated marriage, each has always needed the other to publish what was originally intended as a public service.  Anyone who has ever worked in journalism will attest to the constant conflict between selling ads to corporations (and government) and reporting on those same institutions.  Generating revenue is a necessary evil in journalism and has always been somewhat akin to walking a tightrope.

As we bear witness to the the daily dismantling of our editorial institutions so vital to any democracy, it gives one pause to ask, at what cost to our future are we willing to sit on our hands, doing nothing?

However well intentioned general advocacy and public information bloggers may be, very few have the financial resources, time and staff to conduct responsible daily reporting, let alone the more involved aspects of in-depth investigative journalism.

So why are newspapers and magazines giving away their content online for free?  Can media truly bank on a solid revenue stream being generated by hits on banner ads?   It’s no wonder many newspapers and magazines have gone out of business over the past few years.   The time has come for all online media to charge for their valuable information and imagery.

"Jimmy"  Watts, CA.  ©Eli Reichman, All Rights Reserved.

"Jimmy" Watts, CA. ©Eli Reichman, 1978-2011. All Rights Reserved.

I did not understand as a 20 year old what the passage of time has made more evident.  The responsibility of staying informed comes at a price.  If we are unwilling to pay for vetted information, then perhaps we are already well on the road to: “A Brave New World.”

A cynic might wonder if that’s just the way corporate America wants it to be?


4 thoughts on “Ain’t Nothing Free.

  1. Hello,

    I’m a directing student at the AFI (American Film Institute) and am working on a thesis film next year dealing with Watts in the early 1970’s. I’m loving these two photos and was wondering if you had any other photos or could give possible feedback on the the visual look of the area and its inhabitants during the early 70’s. Thank you.

    Hashim Hassan

  2. I couldn’t agree more with you Eli. And I’ve felt this way well before the Internet exploded. Back in 1995, when the newspaper I was working for decided to give away content, I was utterly amazed. They certainly wouldn’t give away the printed edition. People looked at me like I had 3 eyes.

    So is it any wonder that newspapers are dying? A generation of people have grown up doing two things: (1) not reading newspapers, and (2) not paying for content.

    Combine those factors with the shift in the role of newspapers since I got into the business in 1980. Newspapers were once a kind of quasi-public trust. They were usually owned by entities in the communities they served. And while they certainly wanted/needed to make a profit, it wasn’t ALL about money.

    Then, newspapers started getting purchased by corporations, at which point, they were being driven (solely) by shareholder demands for ever-increasing profits. And because it costs money to gather information and do real journalism, newspapers began going with content that was cheap to produce or purchase. In-depth reporting about important issues was replaced by stories about Britney and K-Fed. It’s reactionary, not proactive. And it is pure swill. Carl Bernstein (remember him from the Washington Post’s coverage of Watergate) calls it the Cult of Idiocy.

    I managed a department in a newspaper from 2001-2003. We were mandated to produce a 37% profit margin. 37%. Unbelievable. All expenditures were inevitably frozen by the 10th of each month. If someone quit, that job went away forever. We continually lost resources. We were required to do more with less. The news hole shrunk along with the quality of work produced by an over-extended staff. And you know what? Readers could tell the product was slipping in quality and decided to quit subscribing. Besides, they could get it online–for free.

    In early 2001, the outgoing president of the Newspaper Association of America said that newspapers drive for high profits in the short term would kill newspapers in the long term. They would do themselves in with their own hand. Well, guess what, that’s a big part of what’s happening today. That, and the economic perfect storm were in now.

    The loss of newspapers is about more than just money. It’s about the survival of democracy. Maybe newspapers don’t get it. But most of the people in this country, when they take a break from watching American Idol, decidedly don’t get it either. If newspapers can somehow get a handle on how to make the web profitable for them, maybe there’s hope. But, why would someone pay for the cow when the milk’s been free for so long?

    P.S. Just because someone is “Old school” doesn’t mean they don’t want to see change. Too many people think change, just for the sake of change, is a good thing. If the change is bad, why not oppose it?

  3. Hmmmm…I have to say that I don’t agree with much of what you write here. In fact it doesn’t sound very liberal or open minded. It sounds like a stodgy old school opinion from someone who doesn’t want to see change. And that’s where I’m conflicted because I know that’s not Eli Reichman.

    I agree that the newspapers need to wake up and take control of the issue. However, Google makes billions of dollars on online advertising and my business makes a pretty tidy profit itself from selling online advertising.

    I just don’t think the newspapers get it. The ones I work with still think of the internet as sort of a value add for advertisers but as more of a fad. In reality, for most businesses, internet advertising is THE best value and not by a little bit, by a factor of ten. I would recommend print advertising only as a last step…once all free options and paid internet advertising has been exhausted. I’d even put event marketing way ahead of print advertising.

    If you look at it from a businesses perspective, print advertising just doesn’t make sense in most cases. The news agencies need to realize this and really get onboard with an online revenue model.

    Things change, people and businesses need to change with it!

  4. Great piece again…on target!!!!!

    Government wants people to lay down and not question their value and worth.

    Its taking our value of connecting to the
    Human experience and bringing conversation to the frontline.

    Michael O

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