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Why journalists deserve low pay

The demise of the news business can be halted, but only if journalists commit to creating real value for consumers and become more involved in setting the course of their companies.

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Journalists like to think of their work in moral or even sacred terms. With each new layoff or paper closing, they tell themselves that no business model could adequately compensate the holy work of enriching democratic society, speaking truth to power, and comforting the afflicted.

Actually, journalists deserve low pay.

Wages are compensation for value creation. And journalists simply aren't creating much value these days.

Until they come to grips with that issue, no amount of blogging, twittering, or micropayments is going to solve their failing business models.

Where does value come from?

Moral philosophers differentiate intrinsic and instrumental value. Intrinsic value involves things that are good in and of themselves, such as beauty, truth, and harmony. Instrumental value comes from things that facilitate action and achievement, including awareness, belonging, and understanding. Journalism produces only instrumental value. It is important not in itself, but because it enlightens the public, supports social interaction, and facilitates democracy.

Economic value is rooted in worth and exchange. It is created when finished products and services have more value – as determined by consumers – than the sum of the value of their components.

To comprehend journalistic value creation, we need to focus on the benefits it provides. Journalism creates functional, emotional, and self-expressive benefits for consumers. Functional benefits include providing useful information and ideas. Emotional benefits include a sense of belonging and community, reassurance and security, and escape. Self-expressive benefits are provided when individuals identify with the publication's perspectives or opinions, or when they're empowered to express their own ideas.

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