Studio 20 Professor Jay Rosen spoke at a conference at Yale this weekend. The experience inspired this post:
I was asked to speak recently at a conference organized by Yale University with the title “Journalism & The New Media Ecology: Who Will Pay The Messenger?” This irritated me. The question should have been “who will subsidize news production?” because news production has always been subsidized by someone or something. Very rarely have users paid directly the costs of editorial production.
So here’s my list of known sources of subsidy, with examples to illustrate each. What I have left out please put in the comments and I will edit the list. If you have a link that provides an example, that would help a lot.
2. Rate-payers can subsidize, a solution that has to be enforced by government. As with the BBC license fee, or proposals to require Internet Service Providers to support journalism through a surcharge.
3. Political interests can subsidize the press, as with the party press in 19th century America or labor’s willingness to fund some new media operations today.
5. Rich egoists will sometimes subsidize, as with Mort Zuckerman’s ownership of The Atlantic magazine from 1980 to 1999.
6. Advertisers are of course the most common subsidizers, though as Clay Shirky says, Best Buy never signed up to fund the Baghdad bureau. They just didn’t have a choice.
7. Entertainment and the revenues it produces can subsidize news production, as with the early days of network television, when the news divisions lost money. Good old fashioned sensationalism also fits under this heading.
8. Soft news can subsidize the hard, as with travel and food sections that pay for other kinds of coverage. (A point suggested by Richard Gingras of Salon.)
9. Unrelated businesses are sometimes a sources of subsidy, as with the Washington Post Company’s ownership of the highly profitable Stanley Kaplan.
10. Then there’s logically-related businesses, as with Bloomberg L.P. and Thomson Reuters, both of which make big money providing data to businesses and then subsidize news production (mostly business news) from that. (More on selling data.) See also USA Today’s Buzz Bureau. Another example would be selling web services—setting up a website or social media tools—to the people formerly known as the advertisers. (One example, in pdf form.)
11. Clever spin-offs can subsidize editorial costs, as with Techdirt’s Insight Community, basically a focus group business featuring the highly informed community that gathers at Techdirt. At the level of the stand alone journalist, this becomes: “Some people who blog make money because they blog,” as against revenue from the blog itself.
12. Educational institutions—especially university-based journalism schools—can be the source of subsidy, as with the partnership between Northeastern University’s journalism program and the Boston Globe.
13. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are increasingly likely to sponsor or support journalistic work, often in partnership with traditional news producers.
14. High earning spouses sometimes subsidize stand alone journalists with start-up sites.
15. Live performances featuring editorial talent, as with magazine conferences or this event: “KCRW & NPR Present ‘Planet Money — Live!’ at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.”
16. E-commerce, also known as selling stuff, sometimes works, as with Techdirt’s “Connect with Fans and give them a reason to buy” program.
17. The most passionate users (those who can afford it) will sometimes subsidize the production of news available to all through small donations, as with public radio’s membership model in the U.S., or Firedoglake at the Libby Trial, or the community-funding platform spot.us and its garbage patch story.
Subsidy ideas in development:
A possible source of subsidy is what’s known as “lead generation.” It means providing good information to businesses on who is exceptionally likely to buy. I’m still trying to determine if this is actually subsidizing news production anywhere yet.
Scott Karp of publish2.com writes of the possibility of high value advertising that would represent a conceptual break with the whole display ad regime. If such a system existed it would be added to my list as a different type of subsidy. The idea is to create advertising of such quality and informational value to users that it enhances the value of high-end editorial production.
Currently in development are voluntary micropayment systems, which would represent a new type of subsidy. No one knows if they’ll be successful, of course. Two to watch are Emanci-pay (“a choosing system… readers, listeners and viewers can easily choose to pay whatever they like, whenever they like, for the media goods they use”) and Kachingle (“crowdfunding sites you love.”)
Also in the concept phase is Lyn Headley’s restrospective funding model for news. “A retrospective news medium is an organization that bestows a continuing stream of awards, each with a monetary component, on the producers of the best pieces of journalism it finds, shortly after each piece is published.”
Notes: I do not talk about subscriptions or paywalls in this post, because that is not a subsidy system: that’s direct payment for editorial goods.
Kevin Coates in the comments says: “The BBC has a profit-making arm which among other things, commercializes rate-payer funded content in other geographic markets. Profits go back to the BBC to supplement the rate-payer funds. Similar to your #7, but revenue does not just come from entertainment (e.g, if you view the BBC news website in the US, you see ads; in the UK, you don’t.)
Worth mentioning is the newsroom-as-cafe concept, which appears to be succeeding in the Czech Republic. Here, the idea is to take a business that already works—the bustling cafe—and turn it into a news gathering operation.
Studio 20 Professor Jay Rosen blogs about ten key ideas for the future of journalism in the social media age:
Here are the ten key ideas I plan to share with the Media140/Sydney conference underway right now in Sydney, Australia. I will be speaking to the conference via Skype in a few hours. The theme of the event is “the future of journalism in the social media age.” These ten Twitter-able ideas are my contribution to that puzzle.
1. Audience atomization has been overcome. (Link)
2. Open systems don’t work like closed systems. (Link)
3. The sources go direct. (Dave Winer)
4. When the people formerly known as the audience use the press tools they have to inform one another— that’s citizen journalism. (Link)
5. “There’s no such thing as information overload, there’s only filter failure.” (Clay Shirky)
6. “Do what you do best and link to the rest.” (Jeff Jarvis)
7. “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; I just don’t know which half.” (John Wanamaker)
8. “Here’s where we’re coming from” is more likely to be trusted than the View from Nowhere. (Link)
9. The hybrid forms will be the strongest forms. (Link)
10. “My readers know more than I do.” (Dan Gillmor)
Bonus notion: You gotta grok it before you can rock it. (Link)