Roger Ebert took a stand for principle today:
I will never ever sell my Tweets. Yes, 3-4 times a day I do an Amazon link, with any income going to help my site.http://on.wsj.com/dRm3FN
OK, so it wasn’t MUCH of a stand, what with the Amazon exception (as Jubal Harshaw said, “”So? Minds me of a wife who was proud of her virtue. Slept with other men only when her husband was away.”) I mean, I’m inferring here — I’m not sure what “Amazon links” he’s referring to.
But at least Mr. Ebert, whose Tweets I follow and enjoy, is drawing a line somewhere — unlike Charlie Sheen.
Personally, though, I’m not inclined to close off any potential sources of income, and not only for my own sake. The most important question hovering over the future of journalism in this country is this: How are we going to get paid to keep doing this? The old business model — letting mass-medium print and broadcast advertising pay for it — has collapsed. The new model has not yet emerged. Sure, there are national blogs and websites making money and employing people, but that’s because of the scale of what they’re doing, and the broad appeal of national politics (and yes, celebrity “news”).
But no one’s figured out how to pay people, going forward, to really cover state and local politics, something that is critically important to keeping the electorate connected to what’s going on in their communities. The MSM have scaled back such coverage dramatically, which makes some of the more marginal, shoestring operations look better by comparison than they once did. But no one has really figured out a model for financing the kinds of newsrooms you have to have to really cover a community every day.
Will paid Tweets be the mechanism for doing that? I doubt it. But until we figure out how to link the demand for such coverage (which is as great as ever) to an effective business model, I’m not inclined to close off potential lines of innovation.
Unless, of course, you can argue a compelling argument for why Twitter, in particular, should be sacrosanct. But to me it’s a Wild West medium thus far, and “Twitter” and “integrity” are two words you seldom see in the same sentence. To me, it’s a laboratory, and journalists are still figuring out how it serves their craft, beyond being a headline alert service. Perhaps one of the ways the tool will be useful is as a way of contributing to the revenue stream. I don’t know. But within the fundamental bounds of journalistic ethics (such as, say, telling the truth), I think there’s room for experimentation.