This, I’ve long held, is where foundation and public support will enter into the new ecosystem of journalism: not by taking over newspapers but by funding investigations and other slices of a new journalistic pie.
I’ve been hoping to get the resources to preform an audit of the current resource allocation in journalism: Take a town, add up all the journalistic spending there (paper, TV, radio, magazine) and then see how much is spent on investigative reporting (I’ll wager it will be tiny; a fraction of a percent of the total) as well as the beat reporting that feeds it – and judge the value of the results.
When we see that number, I predict, it will be feasible to imagine support from foundations and the public (that is, in the NPR and Spot.US models) to pay for investigative journalism. Indeed, I’ll bet that we could multiply the amount spent on and the output of investigative reporting today. This is how to subsidize news. It’s happening now, as Pro Publica stories run in The New York Times. That is a form of subsidy.
Now to touch the third rail in the debate over the future of news: This is how paid content will work, how news will get money from its public — not by putting content behind walls and charging all readers (the few who’ll remain) to see it but instead by setting up systems to take advantage of the 1 percent rule online that decrees you need only a limited number of contributors (of money or effort) to support great things in a gift economy. See: Wikipedia and NPR. But the public’s contributions won’t go to lifting the sinking Titanics of the old-media failures; I don’t want to contribute to failed newspapers anymore than I want my tax money to go to failed banks and their dividends and salaries. Instead, contributions will need to go directly to supporting work people care about.
The future of journalism is not about some single new-fangled product and company taking over from the old-fangled and monopolistic predecessor. News come from a broad ecosystem with many players adding in under many models for many reasons. News organizations will organize news in this diverse new framework, aggregating, curating, organizing. Laid-off journalists are starting blogs, alongside other bloggers. Some people will volunteer, podcasting their school-board meetings, just because they care. When we demand transparency from government as a default, data will become part of the news ecosystem we can all examine. Some of this will be supported by advertising, some by contributions from foundations, some by contributions from individuals, some by volunteer effort. And it will all add up to a new pie, one slice of which will be efforts such as the one HuffPo is about to announce.
: Huffpo’s announcement:
Work that the journalists produce will be available for any publication or Web site to use at the same time it is posted on The Huffington Post, she said. . . . She hopes to draw from the ranks of laid-off journalists for the venture. “All of us increasingly have to look at different ways to save investigative journalism,” she said. . . . The HuffPost also promises to give a higher profile to work produced by other reporting groups, such as The Center for Public Integrity and The Institute for Justice and Journalism.
: LATER: Here‘s Jay Rosen’s post about the project. He’s an adviser.
It is important to stress that the new Investigative Fund is separate from the Huffington Post as both a legal entity and an editorial producer. It is a new non-profit, and so the announcement of its birth, along with the $1.75 million starter budget, is really the launch of a new Internet-based news organization with a focus on original reporting. You might say the operating principle is: “report once, run anywhere” because work the Fund produces will be available for any publication or Web site to publish at the same time it is posted on The Huffington Post. (Probably through a Creative Commons license, but this has not been decided.)
Much about how the fund will operate has yet to be determined, but mostly what the money is for is to pay journalists and the costs of investigations. Some of those journalists will work for the fund as staff, some will be contracted for as freelancers on a story-by-story basis. Some of the money will, I hope, be used for innovative projects that move in a more open source or pro-am direction. That is one of the reasons I am joining up, to advise on that portion. I also think the Fund is an important and public-spirited thing to do; I want to see it come out right, and gain more resources than it has at the moment. . . .
One of the reasons I signed on with the project is to find ways of supporting that more innovative work. But I also counseled Nick and Arianna (who will help raise money for the fund, and find partners for it) that the best approach is to have no orthodoxy and to support very traditional investigative reporting by paid pros who are good at it, as well as teams of pros and amateurs, students working with masters of the craft, crowdsourced investigations, and perhaps other methods. They were already there with an ecumenical approach, combining old and new.