Labor Wants to Be Free

I’ve heard it said with the visionary breathlessness of a true believer: “Information wants to be free.”

My response? “Labor wants to be free.” If free information is a good idea, free labor is even better. So maybe you’d like to work for nothing?

And, of course, that’s what’s been happening to many who work for newspapers across the country. The latest of a string of misfortunes hit the Ann Arbor News. Having given away their information for free, newspapers are setting their labor free to go find other jobs.

The economy has only accelerated a trend that has been on its way for some time. Ten major newspapers are folding entirely or going exclusively digital, including The Rocky Mountain News and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

I hope it’s not too late for other newspapers to recover. The existence a free press is a key to democracy. But if there are no or few reporters, that is in jeopardy.

Time’s cover story last month by Walter Isaacson laid out the issues clearly. There needs to be an easy system for people to pay electronically for small electronic files.

The music industry has begun to slowly turn around the orgy of freeness that Napster and its ilk unleashed a decade ago. The book industry, I think, has been watching and learning. We have appropriately been reluctant to put too much online too quickly for free or without restrictions. Kindle and others have done a decent job of making electronic purchases easy. Training a generation of readers and consumers that good content is worth paying for in whatever form it takes will ensure that quality content will continue to be created.

The American Founders clearly saw that an educated electorate was essential. That’s why they wrote the protection of free speech into the Bill of Rights, seeking to ensure that are free to pursue delivering informative, responsible content efficiently and cogently.

As the economy and publishing broadly speaking continue to move through major upheavals, we need to keep this in mind for the sake of the sake of jobs, yes, and also for the sake of the common good.

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.

6 thoughts on “Labor Wants to Be Free”

  1. I very much appreciate your post. Information is not free. Information is vitally important.

    One thing that very much concerns me is the report that such a high percentage of citizens of a community indicate that they will not miss their local newspaper.

    I did not expect that. I thought at the very least people would miss having the paper be there even if they did not read it.

    We are definitely witnessing tremendous change in so many areas now.

    Excellent post.

  2. Terry

    That is disappointing that so many won’t miss their paper. We all know we are transitioning, but few know what we are transitioning into. I hope it will be something that allows independent reporting to flourish. I have a nephew who recently took a severance “package” from the newspaper he worked for, having done excellent reporting work for ten years. The package gives him a year to find something else, which is good. But ink flows through his veins. There are many more like him, of course. I’m hoping he’ll land somewhere that uses his gifts and passions. We need people like that.


  3. I meant to ask if you knew that this was the last day for the Christian Science Monitor’s daily print edition. It is dated the 27th but was produced today. From now on it will be weekly print plus expanded Internet.

    Interestingly they say they have 2 million online readers as opposed to the 50,000 for the daily print version.

    Still I think it is 100 year old tradition that ends with tomorrow’s edition.

  4. I have never been much of a newspaper reader except when I lived in Japan while in the military. I do believe there is a very important place in our culture for newspaper-like media. The problem present is that we live within an entitlement generation. A large percentage of U.S. population believes they are entitled to an ever growing list of services. One of which is the free access of information. I strongly believe you get what you pay for. Many of this “Entitlement Generation” is either too lazy or too ignorant to weed through the glut of “free” information that is out there. This leaves them open to the manipulation of agenda based media. How we arrived here and where we are going is literally of Biblically import. Thank you for your dedication to this media.

  5. Just a quick clerification: I didn’t mean at all to imply that you are part of the agenda based media. Keep up the great work Andy!

  6. Greg

    You make a great point. As independent media fall in number, what will come to dominate are agenda-based media who get people agitated (on one side or another) because they can create a loyal, impassioned following. Certainly agenda-based media are a legitimate part of the mix and to be protected and encouraged. But if they come to dominate with loud extreme views, we’ve lost something. See Dan Reid’s blog in “Addenda and Errata” on this very topic at


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