Monthly Archives: December 2007

Paying for news

Nontraditional information sources are challenging the value of journalism from traditional newspaper companies, and society as a whole is pointing to the Internet and changing technologies for killing an industry.
With the threat of new media, traditional journalists have spent many words urging new ideas about how traditional journalism companies can make money in a new era. Most newspaper executives continue to say they can do more with less.
Amid the buzz, it’s time to ask a different question. Instead of journalism organizations asking how they can fund their journalism, we need to ask how societies should pay for journalism. That question allows broader analysis and perhaps room for new ideas.
For a class paper, I surveyed recent history of the newspaper business and reviewed experiments in information gathering and sharing on the Internet. A pdf of the paper is linked at the end of this post.
Sources included journalism books: Philip Meyer’s “The Vanishing Newspaper,” Robert G. Picard’s “Commercialism and Newspaper Quality” in the Newspaper Research Journal and the websites of new experiments, from large nonprofits to neighborhood blogs. I asked some neighborhood volunteers for their ideas about how society should pay for journalism.
The results give us reason to hope. Alternatives exist to information solely dependent upon retail advertisers. And it’s clear, as it always was, that society should judge the quality of journalism by paying close attention to the information and money sources.
Philip Meyer in “The Vanishing Newspaper” tried to link quality of journalism with business success. He concluded he could not pinpoint a direct connection, but he was hopeful that varied experimentation would allow truth and fairness to emerge.
“Natural selection will do the job. Maybe we can help it along,” he said.
With a close eye, maybe we can.
Paying for news


Heirs to the foreign correspondents?

With the de-funding of many foreign corrrespondents by traditional U.S. media organizations, perhaps the increase in students studying abroad could fill the gaps. We need ways to encourage these folks to tell us more — sometimes they’re the only voices on the ground. More grants? Funding of travels in return for writing and photographs? And with more funding, perhaps the U.S. voices could reflect a broader economic background. Imagine the perspective that a young person from downtown Philly could give and get from studying the struggles in a French suburb.

For a U.S. student’s perspective on the strikes in France, meet young writer Jill McCoy from Cornell:
Here and here and here.

Related: A note from the BBC’s coverage of the strikes, with many comments from readers:
“Perhaps..some education and/or articles in this BBC website would make it easier to comment on this situation in France. I really do not know what to think …yet, because I don’t know answer to the following questions. Are these rioters unemployed, poor? Is racism really a big problem in France? Or is there some cultural divide too big to manage? Please, more information, BBC.
David Stevenson, Kansas City, United States

H/T to Amanda Kelso, who is involved with the study abroad program at Duke and uses Facebook to share news about the program. She did not put me up to this.

Antidotes to ennui

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”
–T.H. White, “The Once and Future King”

So learn from Ken Doctor about the business of newspapers just ahead of the big annual conference in New York.

Learn from The Center for Independent Media and Colorado Confidential how to build bridges among many organizations on a political polling project together. (But do the organizations all lean left? Would the group be stronger if it didn’t lean at all?)

A New Deal for Journalism: A half-baked idea

Imagine a program like the Federal Writers Project or the Works Progress Administration for journalism.

Imagine an army of young people getting paid about $40,000 a year, with health coverage, to report, write, data-crunch, photograph and video the stories that are getting no coverage. Imagine the nonprofit and foundation money that is currently funding journalism experiments going into one pot, aimed at gathering and processing and digitizing the information that is going untold and un-analyzed now.

Imagine Teach for America for journalism. Is it too Big Brotherish? Can the information gathered be shared and give us work like that produced by writers and photographers during the Dust Bowl, working for the WPA? Imagine funding the next generation’s John Steinbeck, Zora Neale Hurston and Dorothea Lang. (She’s in the photo above).

Imagine digitizing, geotagging and then sharing with the public all the historic photos sitting in library basements and newspaper “morgues.” Imagine a program like the Historical Records Survey for newspaper images and clippings. Philadelphia has begun, partly funding their work with the sale of historic photo prints. One Knight News Challenge grant competitor wants to digitize too.

Imagine the Spangler Foundation giving $4 million to fund reporting and photography in Charlotte over two years. That’s how much the organization has pledged to Teach for America.

Admittedly, philanthropic money has its limits. Taking money from the government to pay for journalism has its limits. But without the WPA, the CCC, the Federal Writers Project and the Federal Art Project, imagine the history we would have lost or never have known.
And without Teach for America, thousands of young people wouldn’t get the insiders’ perspective on why education is important for everyone. Imagine thousands of young people getting that same experience in journalism.
This is a half-baked solutions idea for the class final paper. The main question is here. Ideas welcome.

A quote/citation with parallels:
“The main federal cultural programs of the ’30s were based on concern for a labor market: professional artists and others engaged in cultural work. The skyrocketing popularity of media like the phonograph, radio and movies had recently supplanted many thousands of live performers: some 30,000 musicians had been displaced by new mechanical modes of music reproduction; the government estimated that well over 30,000 theater workers were unemployed by the mid-’30s. With over 70 million movie tickets being sold every week, live theaters were closing all over the United States. The Loew’s theater chain boasted 36 houses offering 40-50 weeks of live entertainment each year before 1930; by 1934, Loew’s had only three such houses operating. These new electronic media resulted in “technological unemployment” for workers in the live media.” “New Deal Cultural Programs: Experiments in Cultural Democracy,” by Don Adams and Arlene Goldbard, at this place.

Photo courtesy of Dorothea Lang dot org.