Journalism for free, and for good

Many media commentators are once more toying with the idea that news should be owned and produced by charities or non-profits. “As the business model for newspapers cracks apart, there are those who are lamenting and those who are inventing,” says NPR, itself a model for non-profit journalism. “Some journalists now say the industry should forget about making a profit altogether and find new ways to support the news.”

A good analysis of the issue here by the American Journalism Review.  Note that this is in some respects a rehashing of an older debate about newspaper ownership structures, where the merits of public and private ownership was debated (as here in the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

What might non-profit journalism look like?

  • 1. Spot.us, a new US-based site and the newest one to me, anyway. The LA Times explains: “On the website, visitors leave story tips and reporters pitch formal proposals, trying to persuade other folks to contribute $5, $100, whatever, to turn ideas into stories. Journalists on the site generally ask for $500 to $1,000. (And individuals can give a maximum of 20%, so no one person can have an undue stake in the story.)”
  • 2. voiceofsandiego.org is a nonprofit, independent online newspaper focused on issues impacting the San Diego region. Its mission statement: To consistently deliver ground-breaking investigative journalism for the San Diego region. To increase civic participation by giving citizens the knowledge and in-depth analysis necessary to become advocates for good government and social progress. Professionally staffed, nonprofit.
  • 3. A proposal from David Scharfenberg in the Boston Globe: “Congress, intent on jump-starting the economy, should set aside $100 million – well under 1 percent of the stimulus approved by the House of Representatives and pending in the Senate – for a national journalism fund.”The cash would seed low-cost, Internet-based news operations in cities large and small – combining vigorous, professional reporting with blogging, video posts, citizen journalism, and aggregation of stories from other sources.”
  • 4. ProPublica is an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. Our work focuses exclusively on truly important stories, stories with “moral force.” We do this by producing journalism that shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them… Lead funding for this effort is being provided by the Sandler Foundation, with Herbert Sandler serving as Chairman of ProPublica; other leading philanthropies also providing important support.
  • 5. A piece on the subject in the (non-profit) Christian Science Monitor [for which i was once a stringer]. An explanation of the Monitor’s role and funding, which is interesting.
  • 6. The Guardian, owned by the Scott Trust (which is no longer a Trust but now a limited company).
  • 7. Human Rights Watch, US-headquartered NGO. It publishes reports that are news, it is run by a lot of ex-journalists… so what if it doesn’t call itself a news organisation? That’s what it does.
  • 8. The Associated Press, the US news agency, which is a co-operative owned by member newspapers (most of which are for-profit, of course).
  • 9. The British Broadcasting Corporation, paid for by the television licence.
  • 10. The St Petersburg Times, which is owned by the Poynter Institute; the latter, a non-profit for media studies, is a very vocal and active participant in debates about future media ownership.
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One Response to Journalism for free, and for good

  1. Robert Hanks says:

    If there is a fault with your blog – and I’m not saying there is, mind – it’s that you think of journalism in news terms. Where does the hard-pressed cultural commentator fit into this brave new world of not-for-profit journalism? I fear we are the new gammas; I’m going to get me some soma and go back to bed.

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