上世纪90年代中期，原《时代》杂志（Time Magazine）编辑沃尔特艾萨克森犯下了他所谓的“原罪”。当时，互联网刚刚兴起，艾萨克森计划向读者收取一小笔费用，为读者在线提供杂志的内容。现任阿斯彭研究所（Aspen Institute）CEO的艾萨克森道：“相反，来自麦迪逊大道的年轻广告经理们纷纷涌入第五大道的时代生活大楼，把一袋一袋的现金摆在我们桌上，要求在我们发布的任何在线内容中投放标题广告。我们说：‘这也太容易了。我们以后永远不会对内容进行收费，因为我们需要网站访问量。’”
要想了解之后新闻行业的发展历程并不容易。不过许多人都在不断尝试。退休不久的时代公司（Time Inc.）总编约翰休伊、《纽约时报》（New York Times）特别顾问马丁尼森霍尔茨和时代公司前新媒体编辑保罗萨根，最近完成了一个煞费苦心的项目。项目收集了60 – 70份视频采访，记录了数字媒体推出之后，新闻行业所发生的变化。这个名为“激流”（Riptide）的项目定于九月份推出。在最新一期的《财富》杂志上可以查看项目简介。
休伊：“我认为不可行，因为自从上世纪90年代开始，免费内容到处都是。有太多地方可以获得免费内容。我花钱订阅了《纽约时报》（New York Times），我知道你（艾萨克森）也订阅了，可我不知道我的孩子们是否会愿意花钱订阅。”
In the mid-1990s, former Time Magazine editor Walter Isaacson committed what he now calls "the original sin." As the World Wide Web started to take off, Isaacson contemplated charging a small fee for readers to enjoy his publication's content online. "Instead, young advertising executives from Madison Avenue came rushing across Fifth Avenue to the Time and Life Building with bags of money to dump on our desks to put banner ads on whatever we were putting online," says Isaacson, now the CEO of the Aspen Institute. "We said 'whoa, this is easy. We will never charge for content because we want eyeballs.'"
"And that was the beginning of the end of journalism."
Understanding the path the journalism industry has taken since is not exactly simple. But some are trying. John Huey, recently retired editor-in-chief of Time Inc. (TWX), Martin Nisenholtz, a special advisor to the New York Times, and Paul Sagan, former editor of new media at Time Inc. recently completed an elaborate project -- a collection of 60-70 videointerviews documenting how the journalism industry changed following the introduction of digital media. The project, called "Riptide," is set to debut in September. A preview can be found in the most recent issue ofFortune.
The trio joined Isaacson onstage during the last day of Fortune's Brainstorm Tech conference Wednesday to discuss journalism's history and future. Here are some of the panel's most intriguing sound bites.
On the decision to offer content online for free in the mid 90s:
Sagan: "You would have made yourself irrelevant by creating what today you would call a paywall. It would have been impossible… Page views were the currency of the time."
Nisenholtz: "For the journalism, it was sustaining. The journalism is spread far and wide now [more than ever before]. For the advertising, it was disruptive. And so the oxygen got taken out of the financial model at the same time that the journalism was bigger then ever."
On whether a pay-per-story business model would work:
Huey: "I don't think so because there's too much free content out there and has been since the [90s]. There are too many places to get content for free. I pay for the New York Times, I know you (Isaacson) pay for the New York Times, but I'm not sure my kids would."
Sagan: "A small percentage of a big number will pay for these things and there's [an opportunity] to get ad revenue and subscription revenue for quality content. But I'm not sure asking people to pay a nickel every time is going to add up enough."