I was having a conversation yesterday with Leslie Haines, editor-in-chief of Oil and Gas Investor (OGI), about the strange times in which we live. Seeing as how we are in the print publishing milieu, we would be stupid not to be a bit concerned about the future of our industry.

Leslie said she had seen a show recently in which Evan Hansen, editor-in-chief of “Wired” Magazine, had commented that it can’t be assumed that anything that now appears in print can be easily transferred online because people aren’t used to paying for things on the Internet. This has gotten me to thinking.

(Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although it could probably be a dangerous thing!)

Let’s look at the way we have been used to getting information – first print, then radio, then movie newsreels, then television, and now Internet. I don’t know at what point people first started paying for their news, but I would have to assume that it predated radio technology. With the exception of gossip magazines, which spread nasty rumors faster than swine flu, most major magazines are trusted to provide well-reasoned and well-researched information.

Trade publishing is slightly different than consumer publishing in that, if you’re a subscriber to E&P, you don’t necessarily pay for your subscription. That’s because the folks we sell ads to want you to see their ads so badly that they’re willing to pay to get that ad in front of you every month. Other magazines, like OGI, rely more on subscriptions for revenue.

But what it all boils down to is that the people who put that information together for your perusal and enjoyment are paid for what they do. I love my job, but I don’t think I could afford to do it on a volunteer basis.

The Internet is a very different animal. Since it has evolved so rapidly, it has not had time to develop a standard business model. Rather, many different models have been tried on for size. There are companies that make money on the Internet. But think about amazon.com or Google, both of which provide an amazing service. How many years was it before these companies turned a profit? The fact is, we’ve been spoiled. I use Google as my primary method of research and am on it several times a day. Most of what I find has already been published somewhere else, usually in print, so I feel fairly safe knowing that the information has been vetted, or at least edited. But recently I started to wonder how much longer that might be true.

I was researching the cap-and-trade debate currently lurking in the US Senate, and my Google search linked me up to a Wikipedia article on the subject. Top 10 points on this so-called “encyclopedic” write-up include the following:

  • Cap and trade is a massive energy tax;
  • It will not make a substantive impact on the environment;
  • It will kill jobs;
  • It will cause electricity bills and gas prices to sharply increase;
  • It will outsource manufacturing jobs and hurt free trade;
  • It will make you choose between energy, groceries, clothing, and haircuts;
  • It will be highly susceptible to fraud and corruption;
  • It will hurt senior citizens, the poor, and the unemployed worst of all;
  • It will cost American families more than $3,000 a year; and
  • President Obama admitted “electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket” under a cap-and-trade program.

Further down, it also mentions that 600 hurricanes could not cause this much economic damage.

Forgive me for being relatively uninformed about the cap-and-trade initiative, but I consider myself fairly well-informed when it comes to yellow journalism, and I’m pretty sure this is it. These things may all very well be true, but where is the science, where is the research, where is the opposing point of view? Yet if you look up “cap and trade” on Wikipedia, this is the first thing you find.

I’m not trying to say that a paid journalist is a fair and impartial journalist. But the Internet opens wide the possibility for innuendo and slanting, not to mention bald-faced lying, and there’s nobody out there reading this stuff and saying wait, we can’t publish this! It would be nice to think that the average sort-of-educated reader could separate the wheat from the chaff, but even people I know who are quite intelligent have been known to fall for a stupid rumor thinking it’s fact (and I include myself in that group!)

I guess the worst-case scenario is that the print medium goes away and all of the news, vetted or not, ends up on the Internet. Over time it will become increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction, and this will wreak havoc on society.

But hopefully those of us moving farther and farther into the online domain will develop our own business models so that we can continue to provide our readers with well-reasoned, well-researched editorial without starving in the process.