These ideas bring us to the edge of patronage, philanthropy, and crowdfunding — from the pledge to an NPR station to the pledge for a journalist’s project on Kickstarter: Some people will support the journalism they want to exist. Their reward is not necessarily access. Our motivations could be many: generosity, altruism, activism, justice, credit, social capital, or just warm fuzzies. Journalists — including many of my students before I’ve had the chance to corrupt them and turn them into capitalists — tend to love this model because it seems so easy and clean (no need to sell advertising, they think) and because it plays to their editorial ego: My work has worth and it deserves this support. But patronage has its issues. First, there simply isn’t enough generosity, whether from foundations or individuals, to pay for all the journalism the nation needs. Foundations will warn you that they will not support operations forever; they expect grantees to find other means of sustaining themselves. Second, there is no free lunch; charity often comes with strings. We have seen plenty of cases of fat cats wearing white knights’ armor “saving” newspapers only to try to use them as their personal and political bully pulpits. I have watched journalistic not-for-profits forced to deal with the demands of philanthropists and foundations. Before assuming that advertising is corrupting, we would do well to remember that it was advertising that freed newspapers from the ownership and control of political parties.
That said, direct contributions are a potential source of support for the creation of journalistic enterprises as well as their ongoing operation. When venture capitalist John Thornton founded The Texas Tribune, I begged him to use his considerable capitalistic skills to make it a for-profit business instead of a not-for-profit, but he insisted that if Texas could support a ballet company or two, it could support his Texas Tribune. The Knight Foundation leads other media funders in subsidizing the creation of important journalistic experiments and infrastructure (Knight is a funder of my work at CUNY). New platforms such as Patreon enable fans of a lone journalist’s work to pay for each piece of work delivered. And in New Jersey, we will experiment with campaigns to allow neighbors to contribute support to their local bloggers.
If you can’t wait for the rest of the book, then you can buy it here.