Has Consumer Choice Killed Journalism?

A blog about business and economics.
March 19 2013 6:29 PM

Is Consumer Sovereignty Bad for Journalism?

Pew released one of those reports about how journalism is dying and I did a column today arguing that actually it's booming and readers have never had more great content at their fingertips. Certain companies in the journalism industry are suffering from a crisis of productivity in the sector, but more people have more access to more great journalism than ever before.

Ben Jacobs responds to this by saying, essentially, that people have too much choice these days. He says I'm "certainly right that there is more high quality news that is more easily available in 2013 than in the past but that only benefits people like him, who would seek it out anyway."

This is a common line of criticism, but I find it a bit puzzling. For one thing, it's important to note that part of my point is that it's much easier to "seek out" information than it used to be. You need a computer, tablet, or smartphone with an Internet connection and a working understanding of Google. And it was never the case that people passively had information beamed into their heads. Nobody made you read the daily newspaper or watch the nightly news. What's true today is that with more news outlets available, there is greater diversity in what people are seeking out. People interested in the Cyprus crisis have learned much more about it since Saturday than would have been possible in a comparable four day period 30 years ago. And the same is true of people interested in the 2013 NCAA tournament. People interested in celebrity gossip know much more about that. People can find out much more about what they're interested in much more easily than they used to be able to.

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Is everyone interested in super-serious important stuff? Of course not. But the greater range of options available to people is a sign of the enormous productivity and strength of the industry.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.