I LOVE newspapers, just the smell of them is perfect. But the knowledge they impart, their ability to focus opinion on key issues at key times and to force a change in the world - they are still a force for tremendous good. 

Today at the foot of an article I read online, the Guardian asked for a donation. It is the first time I have ever seen this from a major news source (they may have been doing this for a while - but it's the first time I saw it). And it got me thinking...

Newspapers hold people in power to account. Public scrutiny - free from interference from the government or wealthy plutocrats - has enabled our Western cultures to continually remove the corrupt, shape and reshape ourselves in our best interest. A rich and diverse publishing press is a force for good in the world.

If you love freedom, you really should love the free press. In some countries on the planet - right now in 2016, you can be stoned to death for saying a view that is different from those in authority. It might seem we have always been free to think and do as we please, but even in the UK it's a massive historical anomaly - no more than one or two hundred years old. I repeat, if you enjoy your freedoms, you owe much of them to the free press.

But the free press is expensive to make and protect. And even seemingly altruistic and benign aspects of culture have second order effects which can undermine the press, and indeed our basic principles and way of life.  

Take freedom of information on the internet, or the BBC's amazing news coverage; it's hard to argue about them intuitively, they seem like unequivocally good things.  But how can people to do the hard work of reporting important, if unpopular or fringe topics; or the contrary view on issues of the day - if we can't pay them to do it. 

What seems clear is that we will end up with a public debate split between three things; what is useful for advertisers, what is covered by the BBC, and passion projects of interested parties. 

If we want to continue receiving disinterested information on the topics that shape our present and will guide our futures, we genuinely need newspapers to function properly. 

And without contribution from you and I, how could the Guardian hope to compete with - for instance, the BBC - a government funded entity that has untrammeled access to virtually every powerful person in the country.

It takes years of education to write well, it takes time and integrity to develop sources. This requires smart people to do hard work, and they need to be paid for their time.

So, the Guardian - at the end of another well written article, asks for a donation. And they're absolutely right to do so.

Donating to the Guardian is not only a vote to fill their coffers. It's a vote for free speech, for holding power to account, for diversity of opinion, for the right of people to stand up to authority - and a mark of respect for the hard work and learning of people who fight to tell these stories in interesting ways. 

I am not a Guardian reader by type - I don't think I've bought the paper in 15 years. But I think they've got it bang on with this one - and I'm clicking the 'donate' button. 

Economic theory says people will not pay for something they can get for free. I think they're wrong . I value it, so I contribute - just a little. 

If you had the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the upkeep of western civilisation and it only cost you the price of a flat-white, would you do it?

PS. After writing this article, somebody pointed me to the John Oliver tirade on the same subject.  It's excellent.  https://vimeo.com/178033940