This op-ed in Current Affairs magazine is quite opinionated, as op-eds in Current Affairs are wont to be, but it does start us off with a valid issue. What do we do in a landscape where the highest quality journalism and research is hidden behind paywalls that most people simply bounce off of?
First, the author talks about news being something that most people prefer to get for free, which means they will only ever see low-quality journalism, partial to whoever pays the bills. But he goes one level deeper and talks about academic publishing.
Possibly even worse is the fact that so much academic writing is kept behind vastly more costly paywalls. A white supremacist on YouTube will tell you all about race and IQ but if you want to read a careful scholarly refutation, obtaining a legal PDF from the journal publisher would cost you $14.95, a price nobody in their right mind would pay for one article if they can’t get institutional access.
On the other hand, pseudo-scholarhip is easy to find. Right-wing think tanks like the Cato Institute, the Foundation for Economic Education, the Hoover Institution, the Mackinac Center, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation pump out slickly-produced policy documents on every subject under the sun. They are utterly untrustworthy—the conclusion is always going to be “let the free market handle the problem,” no matter what the problem or what the facts of the case. But it is often dressed up to look sober-minded and non-ideological.
The rest of the op-ed is a possible solution to this problem: rethinking the foundations of intellectual property law and building a Tower of Babel style universal repository of all media.
Even though this may be impractical, or at the very least, extremely difficult to accomplish, it’s still an interesting idea to consider. I recommend this article because I think there’s value in thinking about ambitious ideas like this.