Access Vs. Ownership

This may take some time to move around to journalism in your mind, but the connection is there. Over at, Andrew Leonard has a piece up about getting his old hifi system worked on and how it’s indicative of an entire generation of music disappearing.

I shall admit last month I dug my turntable out of the attic, revived an old amp, added a new set of speakers and am now listening to old vinyl records in my office. It’s weird, I was an early convert to CDs and know they sound better, but some things I never migrated (and other things never migrated) off of vinyl so I’m listening to old recordings for the first time in 20 years. What I have found is that this is a much more conscious act than hitting play on an iPod or turning on my radio.

I need to go over and physically move the tone arm, drop it on a groove and then, 22 minutes or so later, do it again. It’s making me more involved with the process, which has me paying more attention to it. Until a few weeks ago, it had been years since I sat between a set of speakers and just listened.

Which brings me to this segment of Leonard’s piece:

Much is made in Silicon Valley today of the notion that access is replacing ownership. We don’t need to own cars in the age of ride-sharing. The “cloud” will take care of all our computing needs. We don’t even have to employ full-time workers, we just grab them from TaskRabbit. We rent, we share, we outsource — this is the millennial way. Owning is just so feudal.

Does that connect to journalism? Perhaps it does – when you paid for a newspaper, you felt* that you owned that information, it was yours, a possession to treasure and hold on to. When you click into a web site, scan a few lines, then click away, do you get that same sense of ownership? Or is it only the access that’s important to you?

Does that ownership affect how you respect and treat something? Even as the transition to CDs was being made in the 1980s, with all their marketing about how much more durable than vinyl the discs were, people started treating the physical object differently. If you’re of a certain age, you probably had a friend or sibling that would stack CDs up outside of their jewel cases or toss them on the back seat of a car. You never did that with an LP – the scratches would make them unplayable.

Now, how many people have an archiving system for the digital audio they have bought? Heck, how many people are even buying music anymore? So many are just listening to streaming services where they pay a monthly fee but never own anything.

Maybe this is the generational shift we need to be thinking about with news and photographs – that it’s not about owning, it’s about access. And, perhaps, access is more important when it comes to daily news feeds, but we need to figure out how to respect the material in the same way, to establish its value in the minds of our audience.

* Of course, the content of the newspaper was under copyright protections, so the subscribers never really own anything but a sheet of newsprint.

Mark E. Johnson

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