We all know that print media is suffering. Magazines and, in particular, newspapers are cutting jobs and shutting up shop due to declining ad revenues and the increasing importance of the web.
Needless to say this is making a lot of journalists more than a little worried. But it should also be worrying anyone (this site included) that sees unbiased, fact-based journalism as a vital part of a healthy society.
Journalism Needs New Business Models
In short, we need to start finding new ways to pay for journalism. And although many of the ‘traditional’ media’s woes can be traced back to the web, the web may also be part of the solution.
Not only are established media organisations investing more heavily in online media (both web-native content and online versions of print publications) and finding new ways to generate revenues from them, but new business models are also starting to emerge that may change the way journalism works.
We’ve picked out three new business models (some primarily online, some off) which we feel bring something interesting to the table:
True/Slant: Journalists as Micro Publishers
Run by a former news editor from America Online, the site has launched with 65 journalists reporting on everything from business to politics to culture and sports.
Although it relies primarily on a traditional advertising-funded model, True/Slant has introduced two interesting elements which help set it apart. Firstly, each contributing journalist is paid only a modest salary – their real earnings potential comes from a share of the advertising sold within their own dedicated section of the website.
The better the journos get at attracting and fostering a community around their content, the more they will earn. Although this revenue share model is fairly common online, it is more usually applied to user generated content rather than professional contributors.
Perhaps more contentiously, True/Slant is also offering advertisers the opportunity to maintain their own blog-based sections within the site in a cross between advertorial and custom publishing. For some, this may cross a few journalistic boundaries but with the growing interest in custom publishing it will likely appeal to progressive advertisers.
Propublica: Investigative Journalism for the Public Good
Investigative journalism is time consuming, costly and often speculative. As such, it’s no wonder that many news organisations see it as a luxury. Indeed, Propublica quotes the following study on their website:
“a 2005 survey by Arizona State University of the 100 largest U.S. daily newspapers showed that 37% had no full-time investigative reporters, a majority had two or fewer such reporters, and only 10% had four or more.”
Unfortunately, it is exactly this kind of investigative journalism that is arguably the most beneficial to society. By creating an independent newsroom – employing over 30 full-time investigative journalists – Propublica addresses this issue head on. What’s more, it’s fully-funded through philanthropic contributions.
The fruits of their labors are made available, for free, for publication by existing media organisations and for public consumption via their website.
(See also an interesting – if undeveloped – take on the idea from a dozen UK journalists under the less catchy title The Foundation for Investigative Reporting)
Spot.us: Investigative Journalism for Hire
Spot.us takes perhaps, the most direct approach. The site describes itself as an open source project, to pioneer “community funded reporting.”
In practice that means that the public can contribute ‘tips’ for stories that they’d like to see covered. Journalists then pitch their story ideas to the Spot.us community who can then choose to fund these stories directly. The final piece is either bought by an existing news organisation (at which point any donations are returned) or published under a Creative Commons license.
What’s the Answer?
Ultimately the future of journalism (both on and offline) will probably blend bits and pieces of numerous business models – with every publisher utilising it’s own unique combination of advertising, sponsorship, paid for content, ‘freemium’ content, micropayments, joint venture deals and even ecommerce.
Whether or not this will be sufficient to maintain the news business in its current format is unclear (but unlikely).