By paulgillin | July 24, 2009 - 8:55 am - Posted in Fake News, Google, Hyper-local

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.

Value Prop

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 Fake News, Google, Hyper-local. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. July 24, 2009 @ 10:16 am

    This is a very informative blog. However, I still keep reading guesses. The fact is that many more newspapers will go out of business. I will be so bold to say that very few of you if any, are getting or understanding the ‘new’ business model for news distribution in the digital media. This is where you will FAIL. If you do not understand the new model, you will fail to survive as you are today.

    I am so perplexed as to why as I have read now for months and months on this blog that none of you are getting it. I am truly amazed. Well the old sayings are true – ‘Desperate people do desperate things.’ And the ‘definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.’ I do not mean to be critical here, but please where does TRUTH come to play here.

    I am the publisher of a very large International news and information organization. Our ad revenue is up over 40% this year and we are expanding, yes expanding our local editions to 10 cities by end of 2009. I believe, after months and months of trial and error, we now understand the new distribution model for digital media. So now we eat our own dog food. If any publishers or maybe even more important investors would like to discuss our new distribution and monetization model please let me know.

    Posted by Michael
  2. July 24, 2009 @ 1:23 pm

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