One popular new model for paying for journalism leaves funding up to the journalists. That’s not going to fly in the long term, argues Karthika Muthukumaraswamy on the Online Journalism Blog. Bootstrap operations like Spot.Us do have promise in that they enable enterprising journalists to fund work that wouldn’t otherwise get done.
The problem is that philanthropic and publicly funded organizations like it and Pro Publica are becoming a crutch for cash-strapped mainstream news organizations that no longer have the means to pay for hard-to-get information. Their solution is to push the funding back on the reporters, who then have to scrape by on subsistence income in order to pursue their stories. The model doesn’t scale, she argues, and it won’t work for journalists who have families and mortgages.
Robert Picard would beg to differ. “The primary value that is created today comes from the basic underlying value of the labor of journalists. Unfortunately, that value is now near zero,” he writes in the Christian Science Monitor. Publishing’s traditional high barriers to entry used to place a premium on publishing space and therefore on journalism. No more. Today, technology is “de-skilling” journalists and making everyone a publisher. That means journalists need to redefine their value, and it won’t come from arguing that their work occupies some kind of moral high ground.
One approach might be to specialize. “The Boston Globe, for example, could become the national leader in education and health reporting because of the multitude of higher education and medical institutions in its coverage area,” writes Picard, an oft-published professor of media economics at Sweden’s Jonkoping University. “Similarly, the Dallas Morning News could provide specialized coverage of oil and energy.” Whatever the solution, it doesn’t mean just Twittering and blogging, but really connecting with an audience’s most sacred needs.
Much as we hate to say it, Picard has a point. There’s a lot of focus on tools right now, as if video cameras and iPods have some kind of intrinsic journalistic value. Those are merely tools, and using new tools to do the same old thing doesn’t change the value of the product. Unfortunately, Muthukumaraswamy also has a point. If the value of journalism has been debased to the point that journalists need to go door-to-door to buy food, then a lot less good journalism will get done.
That doesn’t mean that the traditional model of fat union contracts and generous travel budgets are a good alternative. Today, they’re not even an option. Journalism must become more efficient to survive, and the new models for doing that are still under development.
What do you think? Will journalism be better in a world in which journalists themselves are responsible for funding their work?
This entry was posted on Friday, July 24th, 2009 at 8:55 am and is filed under BusinessModel, Citizen Journalism, Future of Journalism, Journalism, NewMedia. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.