The quest for a new model for journalism

What is the new model that will sustain the journalism of the future? The posts below – the fruits of a conference hosted by the NUJ earlier in the year – represent some of the first answers to this question. Some are dispatches from the founders of start-ups; others offer early observation by media-watchers of the new territory emerging in the face of the demise of the traditional business model.

So let’s get the elephant in the room straightaway. It is possible that there simply is No New Model for Journalism. That’s the thesis of a forthright piece by Robert Niles in the US, where attempts to find a way out of journalism’s current impasse are somewhat ahead of those in the UK.

There are, Niles argues, only three basic ways to make money out of journalism, and they all sound rather familiar: payment by customers, revenue from advertising and donation in the form of public subsidy or grants from philanthropists. Instead of pursuing a vain quest for a Holy Grail, the thesis goes, publishers should concentrate their efforts on developing new production models based on more cost-effective ways of news-gathering.

But even if there is no crock at the end of the rainbow, that doesn’t mean it’s time to call off the search. New ways of doing journalism are evolving, and it’s a rich, even hotch-potch field. The ‘new models’ are often more experimental round the edges than brand-new, some are hybrid, some already look like duff ideas, and some, at core, are downright old-fashioned.

While the most impressively innovative approaches tend to be ultra-practical, embracing new media technologies and engaging with niche audiences in sophisticated ways, others tacitly challenge the prevailing cultural and political attitudes about the media, who it’s for, and why it matters.

One such attitude is the rise of the ‘free’ culture which has made it so difficult, in an online age, to charge for information. With the Times and Sunday Times’ recent decision to start charging, it’s too early to say whether it really is too late to row back.

Other approaches, exemplified in Camden New Journal editor Eric Gordon’s contribution below, challenge the axiom that a successful media organisation must necessarily generate continuing growth. Maybe, if we really value local news, foreign coverage, and the scrutiny of politicians and businesses, a model turning a modest profit could be enough? Now there’s a radical thought for our times.

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