Is it really “The end of the age of free”?

Vanessa Thorpe of The Observer wrote an article today titled “The end of the age of free.” In it she gives a couple quotes from Chris Anderson, the EIC of Wired:

For Anderson, the changes that lie ahead are more complex than simply introducing entry fees at a few gates on the web. Instead, he is predicting the twin birth of a “reputation economy” and a “time economy”, to exist alongside the battered old “money economy”. As a result, value will be assessed differently by both providers and consumers.

Toward the end of the article Thorpe also quotes Bill Thompson (one of the initial designers and architects of The Guardian’s site) who says that:

“I don’t think we will look back at 2009 and think that was when it all changed,” he says. “We might look back, though, and see that this was the moment when several senior executives realised they needed to change.”

While I’m not entirely positive precisely what Anderson means by “reputation” and “time” I think that his assessment as portrayed by Thorpe is pretty good.

With the big news (and critiques that followed it) that Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp companies will be looking at setting up pay-for-content models this article is even more interesting.

While 2009 certainly looks to be a year of significant change for media, and news organizations in particular, I also don’t think it will be the tipping point. However, it will be an immensely important year to the future of journalism and consequently must be one of progress.

With announcements like Murdoch’s it’s worrisome that some of the senior executives of MSM still “just don’t get it.” Without seeing the fundamental paradigm shift in economies that is necessary in order for journalism to prosper (which I think it can) these senior executives will simply end up running their companies, employees, and stock holders into the ground.

Perhaps that’s a good thing. Perhaps it will leave more room of innovative start-ups. However, I would like to believe what Thompson says about some corporate media beginning to get it. I think that the reputation of an organization like News Corp or the NY Times could be used to leverage some significant innovation and legitimacy in the online world.

The more I hear statements like Murdoch’s and news like the relationship between the NY Times and Carlos Slim the more I find this acknowledgement of a new economy for news by media executives to be unlikely if not impossible. Here’s hoping though, for everyone’s sake.