July 25th, 2006
Jay Rosen proposes a new model for jouralism — “In simplest terms, a way to fund high-quality, original reporting, in any medium, through donations to a non-profit called NewAssignment.Net.” What jumps out at me, beyond the effort to empower “pro-am, open-source” journalism, is that it’s a nonprofit endeavor, driven by donations.
Jay empahsizes that NewAssignment.Net is not like NPR because the “professionals” don’t control how the money is spent — I certainly support this structured experiement with open-source (citizen) journalism. But I think Jay’s real breakthrough is conceding that journalism is not — an in fact never was — a for-profit business. Jouranlism has always been subsidized, whether by the pure commerce of classified ads or the mass media monopoly of the old network newscast. But in a fragmented, contextual world, nobody wants to advertise next to stories of death and despair in the Middle East. But those stories need to be told as a public service — and what better way to fund a public service than through a mission-oriented nonprofit.
There would be no more need to lay off journalists, no more need to push the boundaries of the old business/editorial Chinese wall.
I like the way Jeff Jarvis characterizes it:
It begins with an article a few articles faith. First: The public will support journalism and investigation. Second: The public will then want more of a voice and a role in that reporting. Third: Given the opportunity to have more of a voice and role, the public will contribute more support. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a virtuous circle, if it works.
Regardless of what you think of NPR and BBC coverage, they are completely rational organizations because news is their mission, not their business. And that’s why Jay’s model could be just the ticket. Don’t like NPR’s coverage? Then donate to journalists who you think will tell the story that’s not being told.
I should caveat this by saying that local news could still be a for-profit business if it’s strongly linked to local commerce and local community. Pegasus News, for example, is working on a new local news business model. The local papers that survive will be those that succeed in reinventing their businesses — which is going to require some brave innovation. And there is still room for Jay’s model to work alongside the local news businesses that do survive and/or emerge.
But the tough work of investigative journalism and reporting from war zones should transition as much as possible to the nonprofit model where it won’t have Wall Street and corporate profit motives compromising this public service that is so essential for a democratic society.