Alex Balk

Feb 10

My plan to save the press.

Micropayments: everybody’s talking about them! Will they save journalism? Can they help preserve the important tradition of reportage that results in an informed citizenship? Are they the solution to the problem of how to get readers to pay for valuable content?

No. People are idiots. I saw one of the freesheets yesterday whose cover conflated Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez, who used anabolic steroids to give themselves an edge on the baseball field, with Michael Phelps, who smoked pot at a college party to make himself look cool. (And get high.) That’s the level of information people are getting from the free papers, and they seem to be perfectly happy about it. Why would they want to pay for anything more challenging or less imbecilic?

Still, we need a fully-funded working press if even a small number of us are to remain informed enough about the world and its currents and conflicts. My proposal is a form of micropayment subsidy that enables the continued existence of information-gathering and analysis so vital to our political literacy. A small fee will be added to the bill every individual or corporate entity is charged each month for Internet service. Those fees will be disbursed to newsgathering entities at the end of each month to pay for the kind of reporting which, despite the cost outlay required, rarely proves profitable.

Here’s the best part: These monies will be apportioned based on the amount of clicks given to completely frivolous articles. (Call it a “tax on stupidity.”) Can’t get enough information about your favorite celebrity’s current romantic travails? Who can? We all live vapid, soulless lives whose meaninglessness we can only endure by an obsessive prurient interest in the activities of people we see on the TV. It’s human nature! But under my plan, clicking through to these stories will result in pieces of actual utility receiving some kind of funding.

Obviously, this strategy is not without its flaws. Who decides which stories are the mouthbreathing moneymakers and which stories are the worthy but boring cash-receivers? I’m proposing an advisory panel made up of 6 noted internet experts (Kanye West, Tim Berners-Lee, Jay Rosen (so long as he promises to never show up; dude seems like he would just go on and on), the junior member of Rick Rubin’s accounting team who secretly writes Hipster Runoff, the kid who made Tumblr, and me) and 3 representatives of old media to be named later, although one of them should probably be Bill Kristol, because you never have to worry about him putting much thought into anything, which saves time.

Until that panel is appointed, however, here’s a rough guideline of which clicks would engender which stories. The formula is simple: For each click on x, the following micropayment from the fund goes toward y. Now, obviously, the fund will not be unlimited, so we need to make sure the more popular idiocies pay out less than slightly more obscure idiocies or else the whole thing will fall apart. Thus, every click on a story about:

Lindsay Lohan yields 1 cent for a basic Obama piece.
Dina Lohan yields 3 cents for a long-form investigation of Cabinet secretary tax. compliance
Michael Lohan yields 5 cents for a process piece on environmental regulations and the lobbying on both sides to influence their content.
Britney Spears yields 1 cent for a story on the growing strength of the Taliban in Pakistan.
Jamie Lynn Spears yields 3 cents for an investigation of the Russian government’s campaign against dissent and press freedom.
One of the other Spearses except for the mom, because fuck her yields 5 cents for a chronicle of the horrific suffering endured by helpless civilians in some African country that you have not only never heard of, but lacks oil fields or mineral deposits that our country’s corporations would be inclined to exploit.

In addition:

Any story that features the words “baby bump” yields 2 cents for an in-depth look at how the pharmaceutical industry gets doctors laid so they’ll prescribe its products.
Any story that features a side-by-side image of young, toned Madonna and wizened, toned Madonna yields 4 cents for coverage of a city council meeting in some heretofore unknown Iowa burg which, despite being incredibly soporific, identifies the growing trend of demonization of migrant workers in local municipalities.
Any story that features a picture of its subject with come or coke lines drawn on his or her face yields 5 cents for an essay bemoaning the death of culture.

There are plenty more (drop me an e-mail for the complete list) but I think you get the point. I’ve run the numbers on this, and it seems like the only feasible way we can save the fourth estate. Call your congressperson today, and then click away, baby: You’re doing it for the good of the nation.