On May 12, TIME managing editor Rick Stengel spoke at Indianapolis’ Butler University graduation ceremony. While such a large media presence likely excited the recent grads at first, some of what Stengel said must have left the crowd a bit…perplexed.
As FOLIO: sister publication min points out, one quote shows promise for an insightful speech, as Stengel reflects on the difference between information and knowledge: “Information is data; knowledge is understanding. Information is statistics; knowledge is insight. Information is foreground; knowledge is background.”
But then he quickly takes a strange turn as he says, “Information is everywhere, and it’s largely free…[knowledge] is scarce and valuable — and you might just have to pay for it.”
The paid content jabs don’t stop there, as seen in the following quotes:
“Information feels like it’s free because it comes to you in a frictionless way with a click on your keyboard. But the information – the knowledge you get from a TIME story about the Middle East—comes at the cost of keeping correspondents in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Jerusalem. That’s not free. And those people are often risking their lives to bring you that information and knowledge.”
“A comment on a blog is free. But you will have to pay for the insight of [TIME columnists] Joe Klein or…Fareed Zakaria, for there is a deep investment that has been made in their experience, their talent, their contacts, their perspective. That’s worth a lot."
While getting consumers to pay for content is a hot button issue in the publishing industry, I wonder exactly what Stengel was hoping to accomplish by broaching the subject during his speech. Were his intentions to convert graduates to subscribers? Perhaps Stengel should have saved his paid content woes for an op-ed, and used this platform instead to demonstrate what actually makes TIME worth paying for: wisdom from a trusted, researched source.
Sadly, this marks a missed opportunity for Stengel, TIME and the magazine industry overall. Educated youth should be enticed to become readers of legacy media brands, not guilted into a subscription purchase.