Science, science, science.
It's a wonderful thing. It keeps planes up, it makes the internet work, it causes the lights to go on when you flick that switch in the corner of the room. It gives us explanations for all sorts of things, including utter stupidity.
I had an argument. I have these arguments every couple of years, but I've been trying to cut back. I don't have the energy. It ran along the lines of:
Me: New Age Therapy X doesn't work. Scientifically, it can't work. It's just nonsense, and those who practice it are either manipulative or deluded.
This was a bad start, I know. I'm making some declarative statements, and I could probably have qualified it. Anyhow.
Her: (for it is a her) But science can't prove everything.
And this is the point when I have lost the argument. Because I am talking to an idiot.
The argument to discredit the entirety of science is that sometimes scientists make mistakes. And, of course, they do. But the great thing about scientists is that they accept that mistakes are made, they get their work peer-reviewed, and analysed and the bunch of theories that we call science get better and better with time. They're still theories, true, but many of them - like the theory of gravity - are so universally demonstrable that they might as well be true for most practical purposes, like going for a walk on a rock flying around the sun.
As far as I know, the theory of gravity is still evolving. There are different ways of conceptualising it that may lead in different directions, there are doubtless amendments that will apply in extreme circumstances that don't normally occur here on Earth. But, 9 times out of 10 - and actually more often - when we walk outside our front doors we don't fly off in to space.
The great thing about science is that you can take some small observations, extrapolate what that means, and see if you can observe whatever it is that your theory implies. Result: Good Theory.
Unfortunately, this leads me in two directions. Health and Morality. I'm not going to touch on morality, and I'm not going to mention the name of the health practice involved, but it involves the incredible dilution of materials to increase their strength.
It's clearly nonsense. That's my basic position, and one I won't actually be shaken from. Ever. It's demonstrably nonsense. It's magic beans. If you apply the basic scientific method and see where it takes you, it famously implies that weaker beer will get you drunk faster. Utter bilge.
The counter argument is usually by example. "My nana took a tincture of chicken albumen diluted a gazillion times and it cured her athlete's foot, and doctors couldn't do that. Science can't explain that."
Actually, science can. I can't, because I've not examined your nana, and I'm not going to, but if a proper analysis was done, science would probably be able to find out why your nana got better, and what triggered it. And then look at the coincidence of the magic bean.
"Oh, but dilute magic bean medicine is part of a family of therapies that work together. We treat the whole person, not the symptoms."
Listen to yourself. Do you realise how stupid you sound? This is the point where I want to educate you, tell you what you are doing. Because it's the point where you're actually doing some good. You're counselling. You're listening. You're making your patient believe that they will get better, triggering the release of chemicals that might actually do some good. You should keep doing that. You should understand what you are doing. You should not then give them a sugar tablet that contains less gnat's bladder than a millionth of a gnat and tell them it will cure their rickets.
But you'll never win. You'll get sucked in to the pseudo-science of dilution, the resonance of crystals, the manipulation of the aura, and the potent magic of contemporary witchcraft.
My advice is just to walk away. Slowly.
When I think of newspapers, I think of tangible objects. Something folded, in front of me, immediate. I think of something I value for a short time, and discard. Something I can scribble on as I try to solve the crossword. I think of journalism, of investigation, of going beyond the headlines and the press statements to generate context, to aid understanding.
I used to think that also meant political impartiality. I reckon that's pretty much impossible, so at least a consistent partiality. But I digress.
Increasingly, I find myself thinking about profit. And in particular, if you are a newspaper how do you make profit from your web site?
I don't think The Times has it right. A blanket paywall is an instant turn-off for the casual browser. I used to read a couple of pages of The Times a month, and now I don't. Yes, my life is lessened by it and I miss reading Caitlin Moran, but it's not hugely lessened.
I don't think The Guardian has it right. Eveything is free, and apparently will stay that way. I read the Guardian on line quite a lot. I use it to dig in to the background of current events. I'll admit that I have some sympathy with its political bias and a generation-old love of its crossword. But I can see things it could charge for.
The basic economics of any free web site is that you give people something for nothing in order to generate income through secondary activity. In the glory days of the web, advertising was seen as the way forward. Eyes on pages mean occasional clicks on banners mean pennies in coffers. In addition, when the web was desk-based, it was hard to take on trains, and so the web site effectively acted as an advert for the more profitable dead-tree version.
However, with web ad revenue insufficient to fund a newspaper - particularly one with journalistic content and not just newswire regurgitation - there are a few areas where cashflow can be generated without putting the whole thing in a box and demanding money to see it.
One approach is to make the news free. This might mean splitting articles in to two - the first part giving you the gist and acting as a teaser for the second part that you have to pay for. If the quality of the first part is good, then the second part is more likely to be bought.
A variation on this theme - make the current news free, but charge for access to the archive. If you've got a big archive, people will value this.
Forums are pretty much essential these days. People want to be able to comment on your stories, no matter how fatuous their comments may be. Monetise this. Either require payment and registration to comment or make all comments anonymous unless you do. Vanity, thy name is profit.
Remember that the way people want to buy your articles will vary. Some people subscribe to newspapers, and some pick them up on a daily basis. Let people buy monthly passes, per article passes, individual issues. Let them rent articles, keep them in a digital locker and delete them after a licence period. Give people ways to interact with your newspaper that keep them coming back, and keep them looking for more.
Remember that corporate bodies are more likely to abide by any terms and conditions than individuals are. Target them. Do deals with companies to give "free" access to their employees, but get a steady corporate income as a result.
Essentially, your content is your advertising. Use it as such.