The Internet is destroying information monopolies and making it possible for people to be freer in their minds, to have access to a free market in ideas.
We have the Internet to thank for giving hope to millions of people who otherwise might be trapped in employment and unable to make their own way as independent creators, providers and producers. For 24 years I was an at-will employee at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, fireable at any time for any good reason or no reason at all, and worked for wages that kept me on friendly terms with poverty. But I stayed in what legally is a master-servant relationship — a tacit admission that I was worth not a penny more than my earnings as a business section copy editor on the night crew.
A study by Intuit suggests that 40 percent of the workforce will be freelance by 2020, undermining a key element of the federal surveillance state, that being the status of master-servant relationship. Independence in being able to make a living on one’s own is exciting. But it can be frightening. We lack security, insurance, regular hours, we lack the security of other people’s bearing risk and making all the decisions.
James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg suggest in their book Sovereign Individual that as the welfare state comes crumbling to an end, we should look toward the prospect of making our own livings and being talent and intellectual freeholders. As an employee I am not making my own living. Employment is entering into a privilege; making one’s own living is exercising a right. The Internet gives the prospect of decentralization and a fuller exercise of one’s self-worth. I am excited, but nervous.
Of digital paywalls and free access
The Chattanooga Times Free Press, with the city’s largest newsroom, announced in Sunday editions it is creating a paywall for its texts and photos. Chattanooga Publishing Co. cannot support its readership and its staff by giving away its news content on the Internet. It follows The Wall Street Journal and other newspapers that maintain paywalls of various height. “How many other businesses that spend significant amounts of money producing a product would turn around and offer it up for free?” asks Alison Gerber, managing editor. “Would Chattanooga Bakery give away its MoonPies? Nah. Would Krystal give away its little burgers? No way.”
I understand. A digital barrier is rational if one accepts the assumptions that underlie the concept of “newsroom staff.” My departure at the Times Free Press coincided with my presentation to management of a liberating and libertarian idea of allowing the free market into the newsroom. I proposed a planned evolution in management-writer relationships. It would have turned employees into collaborators and, eventually, freelancers. I asked owner Walter Hussman in Little Rock, Ark., if he would be willing to convert the Chattanooga publishing company into a utility.
How on earth could that be a free market idea? The paper sheds its pretensions to being a sole or comprehensive news source. It is less exclusive, more collaborative. It accounts for the Internet structurally, as simply posting newspaper stories on a website reacts to the Internet, but doesn’t account for it.
My proposed steps. The newspaper repeal monopoly-era old-guard newsroom ethics rules from the hand of former editor Todd Foster that oppress and terrify every creative soul on staff (as they did me). Rather than forbid staff members to write on their own, the company does a 180. It encourages every writer and photographer to start his own Web business, with the TFP as consultant and booster. The independent publisher keeps his platform aloft with tech support, Website design, ad placement and marketing aid from Chattanooga Publishing, which re-envisions itself a utility service provider in the publishing field. Had my idea been accepted, I might have remained on staff, launched Nooganomics.com with help of the company and served two masters. Master No. 1 is the TFP, the holder forth of establishment news and perspective. I would have continued as copy editor for business, or whatever the boss wanted. Master No. 2, you and other readers and advertisers who profit from me as an entrepreneur and independent thinker.
By absorbing decentralization into its bosom, the Times Free Press liberates the galley slaves, encourages every creative heart in its employ, energizes the news and feature-writing business in the city and survives as an altered company. It invites Chattanooga Publishing to not just run a tightly controlled newsroom and a website, but accept the benefits and risks of liberty.
The paywall that Mrs. Gerber announces in Perspective is an old-fashioned idea irresolutely arrived at. It is defensive, not offensive.
More for free; my investment in local economy
My bet is on local economy and the free market as a concept. I am selling that concept. I am basing my labors as a writer upon an idea that is extremely attractive and has already won. Mine is an authentic and Christian worldview that accounts for the doings of man in the context of the doings of God. I can use everything I know in the journalism I practice, though some in my old newsroom may sniff at my claim. Thanks to you, my reader, Nooganomics is a year old. I work every day thinking how best to serve you — amazingly, for free. How to sustain sustain our relationship? How to serve you — and yet pay a F$627 house insurance bill from State Farm and other routine expenses of life?
The real potential for the “love your neighbor — shop local” concept is on radio. By God’s providence, I was given free time on talk radio in January. Last week I bought a transmitter for Copperhead 1240 AM radio (WSDT Soddy-Daisy) to quintuple its range. No longer just a local station, the Copperhead should reach down to Dalton, Ga., and in Tennessee over to Charleston and up to Spring City. I am investing in a man, Sab “Confederate Mike” Cupelli. I am investing in his property in a local economy “patient capital” move. I help him. He helps me. Mutual aid. Looking out for the other. The show streams live 1 to 3 p.m. (Today I interview Joan Garrett McClane, a star writer at the Times Free Press.)
The Chattanooga Times Free Press will have a paywall soon. But that’s not the wall that matters. The wall that controls the company’s future is not one that needs to be erected, but leveled. That, again, is the employment wall under an exclusive master-servant relationship.
But there is hope. The Times Free Press in February engaged a company to provide digital marketing in the slow shift of newspaper publishing company to media utility. In February,when it announced price hikes, the company unveiled a new service, 121 Digital Marketing, which will pursue a natural course toward serving website operations such as me, according to Chattanoogan.com. ‡
Ah, the free market at work.
‡ “The digital products and services include: website and mobile website design and hosting, video production and integration, search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO), mobile advertising including SMS (text) marketing, email marketing and social media development, display ad retargeting, press release syndication, reputation management and online development, as well as easy to understand reporting that demonstrates return on investment.”