Two big journalism stories broke today that seem to have nothing to do with each other, but are actually the same chicken coming home to roost and coming home to roost. Rolling Stone’s University of Virginia fraternity rape story in Rolling Stone is falling apart, and as it happens, so is The New Republic. Why are these chapters of the same book? Because both are what happens when text, in a digital world, has no viable economic framework. Magazines used to pay fact checkers and editors to ride herd on reporters and skeptically demand backup, sources, confirmation, and evidence: Rolling Stone can’t afford that stuff any more and left its reporter out on a limb without an essential support system. The New Republic is a whole enterprise, a paper magazine, that can’t support itself the old fashioned way, so a tech millionaire who knows about journalism from Facebook is going to take the name and use it for something completely different. How different? His new CEO admits he can’t read more than 500 words of anything at a time, and the staff has all hit the street. I predict with confidence that the new New Republic will cost Hughes so much money to keep afloat that he will euthanize it within two years, unless he just want to pay for a hobby mouthpiece.
These are not the first nor the last times we will see the reality that content is a non-rival public good will make itself known.