There’s money in them thar data.
Or at least that’s what CQ Press, which is creating a new service call First Street, Bloomberg and Politico seem to think. According to this NYT piece, they’re all pumping money into developing databases about who’s who in DC and pending legislation.
Subscriptions to First Street will start at $3,750 for most users. Bloomberg Government, which offers a similar database of information on legislation and a who’s who in Washington, costs $5,700 but also offers policy research and analysis. Politico Pro, which will provide in-depth coverage of Washington’s myriad federal agencies and trade associations, will start charging subscribers $1,495 to $2,500 a year for its most basic level of access.
This seems like a no-brainer. It’s worth real money for lobbyists, companies and researchers to get to know who’s doing what in the US capital, where an edge in information may translate into real advantage when it comes to figuring out how people might vote or how a bill will affect a business.
In theory, First Street can provide a lobbyist or Capitol Hill staff member’s entire work history, which can enable businesses and other lobbyists to find the people in Washington who are best connected to serve their particular needs. All this data is searchable and paired with information about bills and laws, meaning that someone can click on a particular piece of legislation and find out everyone who has lobbied for it and how to contact them.
Imagine the value of a similar database on key Chinese officials – or possibly in the EU. Or even Hong Kong. The point is, finding ways to surface information about key people or issues can be a valuable – and lucrative – business. News organizations discover information every day, but often just use it for that day’s stories, without storing away real nuggets of value. A bit like panning for gold and just keeping sand and dirt.
Some might argue that charging large fees for accessing information isn’t really part of journalism’s public interest mission. If a news organization only serves a small elite, is it really journalism? It’s a good point – up to a point. How accessible must journalism be, to be considered journalism? Bloomberg terminals aren’t cheap, but that doesn’t disqualify them from the fraternity. On the other hand, there is a also class of people who dig into wrongdoing and write it up for a select small audience, and they’re called private investigators.
Where is the line drawn? And does it matter?
There’s no simple answer. But in many cases, there’s probably no conflict in news organizations mining their data for great stories – in the public interest – that they can publish to a large audience, while selling access to key parts of their data for princely sums. It’s a straddle that hopefully can keep journalism well-fed while keeping the public well-informed.
But finding, keeping – and selling – data is key to this.