New Model Journalism

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Budding local tv scene flowers in Norwich

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Waghorn: Freedom came from the dark fringe

“We are going to build a new eco-system of news, from the bottom up”, Rick Waghorn promised the 100 or so participants at the #1000Flowers event in Norwich this week.  “We are moving away from an imposition of news from the top down to an age of participation”. 

With attendees from Scotland, Cornwall and many points between, Waghorn likened the burgeoning hyper-local television scene to the pockets of radical thought that flowered briefly at the fringes of Britain during the seventeenth century.  “Three hundred and fifty years ago ‘freedoms’ came from the dark corners of the land, and the same is true today”, he said.

That such a gathering could take place, and that it was a buzz of interest and networking, is probably is most significant feature.  There were presentations from MyCornwall.tv, LitchfieldBlog-does-tv and STV as well as interventions from representatives of the BBC, Trinity Mirror and several creative agencies with interests in this area.

Lilley: connect networks to content

In the opening session, Anthony Lilley – one-time News International Professor of Broadcast Media at Oxford university – sketched out the landscape within which these new services are appearing.  “We are now in an attention economy”, he said.  “Media used to be scarce, now it is abundant and almost all of it is irrelevant to all of us, until it becomes something in which we are interested.” 

He suggested regulation continued to be “an analogue approach to digital problems”.  And worried about new media’s tendency to draw us all into ghettos of people with similar interests and prejudices to ourselves.  His most interesting suggestion, though, was that high speed broadband might be licensed as ITV franchises once were, with an obligation to fund local news.

Lilley’s adage that it is the content genres that matured a decade ago that are today making the money – such as tech blogs – was certainly borne out by those participants who described their experiences of making hyper local tv.  Dorian Sprackman from MyCornwall.tv, for example, represented most when he said: “We are helping to give local communities a voice and to allow them to represent themselves”, but admitted that when it came to finances they had to “beg, borrow and steal”.

 The elephant that remained unremarked upon at the conference was the essentially opposing interests of some of the participants.  Most there appeared to be from largely voluntary, determinedly local, start ups – precisely the 1000 Flowers of the event’s title.  A few – STV and Trinity Mirror – however, represented public companies whose interest in hyper local content is significantly less anarchic that those with whom they were willing to share platforms yesterday.

Waghorn did not draw his seventeenth-century simile to conclusion.  Those who have high hopes for the burgeoning hyper local tv scene of today should perhaps give a moments thought to fate of those seventeenth century radicals to whom he likened them.  After a relatively short-lived burst of enthusiasm, most met decidedly sticky ends.

Written by Tim Dawson

November 5th, 2010 at 9:04 am

Penny Red turns penury to profit

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An unexpected fruit of the NUJ strike at the BBC came in the form of Laurie Penny on Radio 4 this morning. On Off The Page, which ran instead of the Today programme, Penny described how her blog – a kind of socialist-feminist cultural commentary called Penny Red – led her from near destitution to a career in journalism.

Penny, who publishes her stuff on a Blogger platform under a Creative Commons License, now writes a regular column for the Staggers, contributing to the usual suspects such as the Guardian’s Comment is Free. She admits that being a freelance journalist makes her ‘terribly poor’. We hope you find ways of making journalism pay, Penny.

Written by Alex

November 5th, 2010 at 4:02 am

Government details plans for local TV

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Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is to take another step in realising the government’s vision of a network of local TV stations today. Hunt, who has yet to convince the industry that there will be sufficient advertising revenue to fund the initiative, is to lay out his plans in a speech to the Royal Television Society.

Written by Alex

September 28th, 2010 at 3:10 am

Will the coalition government save quality journalism?

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It’s nearly party (conference) time, so over the next few weeks NMJ will be focusing on public policy and what it means for the future of journalism. We’ll be looking at the political developments in Westminster and Whitehall, and how digital media are helping people to influence policy in new ways.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport gave NMJ this statement: ‘The government is clear that we need strong media, both national and local, underpinned by quality journalism, which is fundamentally important for citizens and our democratic process.’

In terms of general sentiment, so far, so good. In practice, DCMS is limiting its aspirations to cutting media regulation and promoting local TV stations.
In November, work will begin on a Communications Bill, expected to come to Parliament in late 2012, to bring about a relaxation of the cross-ownership rules that govern the local media. The idea is that a new generation of local TV stations will replace regional news organisations like ITV, becoming commercially viable multi-media platforms providing TV, print and online content.

Licensing for the new TV companies is expected to begin in 2012, with up to twenty local TV stations licensed by the time the current parliament ends in 2015.

Written by Alex

September 14th, 2010 at 11:05 am

Future of local news is bleak … and bright, say new models experts

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While it was never likely that the state would jump in and save journalism, the new government’s first statement on media policy put paid to any illusions that there will be public subsidy to revive local news.

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed on June 8th that the coalition government is to scrap proposals to replace ITV’s regional news provision with a network of independently funded news consortia.

The announcement prompted very different views of the future of local news at the University of Westminster’s Next Top Model conference on June 8th and 9th.

Claire Enders, founder and chief executive of Enders Analysis, argued that the survival of local news is dependent on a new business model which has yet to emerge. ‘Many organisations decided long ago not to invest in websites because there is no business model,’ she said. With many local economies dependent on state subsidy and advertising revenues set to shrink further, the future is bleak, she added: ‘The picture isn’t going to get better. It is going to get worse.’

But William Perrin, who runs the pioneering local website project Talkaboutlocal, said that the previous government’s IFNC scheme had generated innovative proposals which were unnecessarily dependent on public subsidy. An alternative, viable model for regional news would be low-cost and internet-based, he argued: ‘It will require some public investment but not much – a few hundred thousand to get something running. It’s not millions.’

Written by Alex

June 10th, 2010 at 5:04 am

Daedalus on the future of news

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The latest edition of Daedalus is devoted to the future of news, and contains much that will be of interest to readers of this site.  It can all be read online here.

The lead article in the Spring 2010 edition of the journal, produced by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, is a consideration of the implications for democracy of the current state of the news by veteran sociologist and activist Herbert Gans.

Gans is strong on setting the scene within which the US media is currently operating and his long-established critical perspective on the nature of news, and journalists’ idea of their own mission is as stimulating as ever.

He concludes with a laudable seven-point plan for journalists and the media, if they want to contribute to civic democracy.  While much of this is framed in terms of a digital-era backdrop, it is hard to believe that he would not have been offering much the same prescription 20 years ago, however.

Robert Giles, the former editor and publisher of the Detriot News tackles the new economic models that are currently in play.  His initial survey replicates much of what you will find elsewhere on this site – with a couple of interesting examples that we have not mentioned so far – Circle of Blue Water and the Nieman Journalism Lab, for example.  He goes on to consider the endeavours so far by existing media groups to generate revenue from the web.  It is a useful summary, but does not give much about which to be optimistic.

There is much else in the Journal that is worth seeking out – particularly Paul Sagan and Tom Leighton on the Internet and the future of news and, Ethan Zuckerman on the International Reporting in the age of participatory media.

Written by Tim Dawson

May 6th, 2010 at 5:05 am

Peter Murray – defending quality journalism

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Quality journalism is vital for a democratic society, but expensive to produce.  We need government initiatives to revive the industry in a way that promotes the rights of journalists as workers

  • We are at a critical moment given the imminence of a UK general election
  • The NUJ is calling for: tax breaks for subscriptions to newspapers and magazines; direct support for genuinely local media; public benefit tests on media mergers; and the abolition of the bar to local authorities investing in local media

There are a number of privileges attached to being president – one is being able to attend events like this.

It is very easy to be daunted by the state of the industry.  Like Granville, Ian and Gavin, I was reading last year’s Report for Excellence in Journalism.  It said: “The math seems increasingly inescapable: advertising on the internet, on current projections, will never represent the kind of economic foundation that (once) flowed to newspapers and television”.

We know all too well how the employers here have reacted to this situation: cuts in staff numbers; cuts to freelance budgets; and cuts in the quality and diversity of news.  It is also clear that people recognise the threats to democracy and a civil society from: declining coverage from local newspapers; online news being placed behind paywalls; and having to rely on amateur bloggers for news.

In the Scottish Parliament there has been a committee debate recently on the effect on local newspapers of declining government advertising.  There will be a further debate in the Scottish Parliament at the end of this month on the state of the newspaper industry. Politicians in Westminster, Northern Ireland and Wales too are increasingly recognising the problems caused by the decline in local newspapers.

There is little that Rupert Murdoch has said that I would agree with, but he has said, this month, that quality journalism is expensive.  We know that here, that is why we have always made it a maxim that journalism requires journalists.  News does not happen on its own, it requires reporters, photographers, researchers, subs and designers.

If someone asks me, ‘What is a journalist?’ I say that digesting news is like trying to drink from a firehose.  We need journalists to make sense of the world in which we live.

The best of the new online sites and their owners understand this well enough, whether its the Huffington Post, San Diego Voice, Business Desk or Liverpool Confidential. Success online requires investment in journalism. 

At ADM, we called for public funding for journalism to help the industry recover.  The NUJ’s suggestions include: annual tax credits for individual media subscriptions; the elimination of postal rates for quality media; direct support to help genuinely local media; and, the abolition of legislation that prevents local authorities from investing in local media in the UK. 

The NUJ also believes that there should be strategic use of government funding.

Media regulators should impose public-benefit tests in the case of media mergers, to guard against further concentrations of ownership.

A general election is now imminent, so all of this is political.

‘There is no tradition of foundation funding in the UK,’  Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative arts spokesman, told a parliamentary committee. The Tories hope, if they take power, they will generate a lot more money from foundations and benefactor funding.  The NUJ intervention in this debate is therefore crucial.

We can’t rely on local millionaires, or billionaire friends – that funding is not always there. We welcome initiative from the Scottish Labour Party to let 18-year-olds read newspaper for free.  That would be great – so long as such funds were used for the training of journalists, or apprenticeships, or payment for those on work-experience schemes.

I am also encouraged that the French government is contemplating introducing a tax on internet advertising. The aim would be to prevent big online interests undermining French creative industries with an online free-for-all.

The NUJ too has looked at how much could be made from a ‘Google tax’ levy.  The idea is beginning to be taken seriously in some quarters after initially being rubbished by politicians here.  They can now see it might generate considerable income.

There is widespread agreement that the business model that has served the industry for so long has failed.  It is almost certain that there is no single model that will replace that.

At the NUJ we will campaign to put quality journalism front wherever our members work.

Congratulations to people who organised the conference.  If you are new to the NUJ, and if you work in these areas, it would help the NUJ if you would go out from here and recruit new members.  The experience of a lot of people working in these areas is of low pay and long hours of a kind that we consider unacceptable.  That is very basic trades union work.  The union at every level will be looking to recruit and fight in the online sector.  That means building chapels to give new members confidence to organise to fight for better wages, better training and better workplaces.

Pete Murray works as a radio news producer with BBC Radio Scotland. He has also produced several short video films for the BBC Scotland News website and regularly works as an outside-broadcast producer.  Before moving to Glasgow in the 1990s, he worked at the BBC World Service in London and as a foreign correspondent in south and west Africa. He has held NUJ office as Father of Chapel in London and Glasgow and various branch offices. He currently represents Scotland on the NUJ’s National Executive and was elected NUJ President at the Southport ADM in  2009.


 

Written by Tim Dawson

March 28th, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Posted in Broadcasting,News

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Gavin MacFadyen

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Foundations have become the key to funding investigative journalism in the USA

  • Similar initiatives are now underway in the UK
  • USA tax and libel laws made foundation-funded journalism a powerful force in that country, but conditions in the UK are not as favourable
  • University-based journalism projects have also created some important new models for investigative reporting

Today 75% of investigative reporting is not done by the media, but by foundations and foundation-supported NGOs.  There has been a profound shift away from newspapers and television.

That is why we started the Centre for Investigative Journalism – we were mainly former Panorama and World in Action staff.  We had realised that there was no training going on in the BBC or ITV for investigative reporters – that is why we set up the centre, as a means of training people.

We were frustrated that we couldn’t raise the funds to do the work that we wanted to do.  That has changed profoundly now.  We have raised more funds than have ever been raised before to do the things that we want to do, at least in the UK.

In the USA there are now 50 or 60 nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) that employ journalists. There are 65,000 unemployed journalists in the USA so there is no shortage of good people, and now organisations like Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and Greenpeace all have research staffs.  And those organisations all raise money from foundations.

These foundations are now moving to the UK.

In 2006, Chuck Lewis formed the Center for Public Integrity (publicintegrity.org).  Lewis decided that he needed to raise funds to research corruption in Washington – no small task.  He was able to raise $4m a year, from lawyers’ groups, free-speech groups, civil-liberties groups.  As a result, the Center produced 160 publications and four bestselling books.  It was the most successful single investigative operation undertaken.  Lewis was a genius at raising money.

Lawyers were an important element of his work.  Lewis went to the biggest, toughest law firms he could find and asked them to help the Center, on a pro bono basis, to defend the Center’s work.  That said, libel laws in the States are nowhere near as tough as they are here. Armed with these prestigious law firms on his board, the law suits started to melt away.

The only successful legal challenge mounted against the Center for Public Integrity was by an oligarch.  Four years ago, he almost succeeded in sinking the entire investigative community in Washington.  The Center only survived because of the massive influx of lawyers to support it.

In the USA, foundations are now spending between $75m – $95m a year on niche and investigative reporting.

At Berkley university, in March each year, there is a big meeting of all these funders.  The biggest is a guy called Sandler who owns about a quarter of downtown Los Angeles.  He is not a modest man, in resources or anything else.  He funded the biggest investigative unit ever assembled in the USA – called Propublica (propublica.org).  It is based in New York in swank offices in midtown Manhattan.  It employs 28 journalists, 13 researchers and 20 production staff.  Propublica’s annual budget is $20m a year. They now have enough money to operate for three years.

The interesting thing about this kind of foundation-supported approach – with the money put up by one family – is that they devised a system of control, like CBS.  There is a corporate wing, that deals with all the money, and an editorial wing.  Communication between the two is allowed only if there is a lawyer in the room to keep an independent minute.  That is intended to ensure that commercial pressures are never brought to bear on the editorial side of the organisation.

The Bureau for Investigative Journalism is our attempt to do something similar in the UK.  It has now raised £2m. It is supported by, but not controlled by, City university.  The Bureau can produce research, but it can’t publish.  We could not find a single lawyer who would recommend that we could publish under our own imprint. We have to go through media outlets with deep enough pockets and liability insurance.  This is the only place in Europe where this is the case.

Libel costs are now estimated at £1,350 an hour.  And it could take two months work from a major law firm just to survive one bad judgement.  So, we must either operate out of Honduras or publish through The Guardian, C4, or whatever.  We also have options to publish through France, Germany, Sweden, Mexico and, the USA.  Currently we arein discussions with CBS Sixty Minutes, PBS Frontline and two outlets in French tv, all of whom are more favourably disposed to publish our work than anyone in the UK.

We have looked at the crowd-sourcing model for funding. There are several operations in the USA where that has been tried.  For example, the Voice of San Diego (voiceofsandiego.org) was started by four restaurant owners and a millionaire backer.  It looks at public health issues, fraudulent accounting and so on.  It has been successful.

I wish that outlets like National Public Radio could survive without money from huge and powerful foundations, but they can’t.  Every single outlet in public radio and television in the USA is funded by three large foundations.

The Park foundation is one, for example (parkfoundation.org).  Without it, there would be no social democratic television and no drama on USA television.  Today drama in the USA is better than here.  PBS Frontline is entirely funded by foundations and has an annual income of $40m a year. It is probably the best-regarded investigative programme in the world. It has roughly the budget that Panorama and World in Action had during the 1970s.

‘Spot.us’ is a new technique that organisations are using in the USA.  It announces, for example, that it wants to investigate road building or sewer malphesance.  The public can then decide whether to send in money, or not.  If the appeal generates enough money, the investigation goes forward.  That would not work in the UK because journalism is competitive and everyone would go after that story.  There is a lot of collegial and cooperate working in the USA that would not work in the UK.  In South Korea there is an internet newspaper with a staff of 30 and 27,000 reporters. Each reporter has his own web cam.  They produce all this stuff, the staff work as editors.  I think that it makes money, I don’t quite know how.  No one quite knows how anything on the web makes money.

Spot.us also has a model which is being investigated for Europe.  French, Italian and funders here, wondered if you could reduce journalism to niche groups – cultural, sports – and get money just for that. Then a federation of all those could be created.

There are some other novel models for funding journalism

The university funding model: unemployed journalists go to a university and extract a commission to train students. In exchange, the university provides research, publication and technical facilities.  That allows the journalists work to get out there – on the web, tv or radio.  There are 130 programmes of this kind in the USA at the moment, three of them very large.

Chuck Lewis has a big one at the American University in Washington (investigativereportingworkshop.org).  Their stuff is very good, so students, trained by professionals are now regularly reporting for the NYT, CBS Sixty Minutes and PBS Frontline.    Part of their success is down to having no material costs. The university has liability insurance.  That model has taken off in a number of universities.  The rich mix of people at most universities also adds to the mix.

Medill Innocence Project (medillinnocenceproject.org) at Northwestern University, is run by David Protess, who had been a Sunday Times reporter.  Protess put one law student with one journalism student to create 20 or 30 teams.  Each team was assigned a person on death row, and asked to exhaustively review their case.  There were plenty of people on death row in Illinois.  At the end of one year, the students’ investigations had led to 13 prisoners being freed because of police corruption, the planting of evidence and so on, uncovered by the students. The Chicago Sun Times jumped in and launched a similar campaign.  Total cost of the project was just $3,000 and it saved all these lives and turned around the way that journalism was perceived in that area.

Three or four UK universities are investigating this model – although you will, of course, have to reintroduce the death penalty.  Conventional funding from foundations, remains the main funder of investigations, however.

Ford Foundation started it, when they became independent of the Ford Motor Co.  It moved further and further to the left as time went on.  It has $35 billion to give away.  The Park Foundation gives away $240m a year.  Its money came from local newspapers in upper New York state.  Those papers provided the family with all the money.  The family split on left-right grounds and the left got the foundation.  They don’t even ask us questions about what we do with the money, they just say, ‘more power to your elbow’.

We get money from George Soros, from the Open Society Foundation.  We have not had a word of interference from them.  They just say ‘do your worst’, and we do our best.

The Lorana Sullivan foundation, is a British foundation. She was a Wall Street Journal journalist who ended up on The Observer for many years.  She was one of the best investigative financial journalists ever.

The Foundation supports the training of young female investigative reporters here and at Columbia in NY.  Her foundation supports the Centre for Investigative Journalism and will hopefully fund the Bureau.

These foundations support organisations such as Propublica, the Centre for Investigative Reporting at Berkeley, the Fund for Investigative Reporting in Washington DC, the Investigative Reporting Workshops at American University in Washington. Lowell Bergman (who was played by Al Pacino in The Insider) does the same at Berkeley. The Logan family give him $5m a year.

The real difference between here and the USA is that, in the USA, the laws are sympathetic to giving. If you can satisfy what is known as the 501c3 provision, you get a huge tax break for giving money.  So rich people get a tax write-off, plus they get a bit of a glow about their name. And this model is moving out of investigative reporting, into arts and sports journalism.

The Huffington Post has its own investigative bureau funded by the Huffington Foundation and another foundation.

The Fund for Investigative Reporting is very different.  It gives completion money or funds travel, if a reporter needs it.  The model is a similar fund in the USA that gives grants of $3 – $5000.  It’s not much money.  But, it was funding like that which gave Seymour Hersh the money to start My Lai – so is very powerful. We could not find anyone who would do that under the current tax law in the UK, however.  So, tax law is as important as the libel law.

Gavin MacFadyen is director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism and is one of the founders of the newly formed Bureau for Investigative Journalism, both foundation-funded non-profits and based at City University. These organisations were established to provide hands-on training for independent, skeptical journalism and to provide funds and resources to encourage high standards in public-interest reporting. He was a long-serving World in Action producer-director and has produced investigative current-affairs television in all the main channels in the UK and the USA.

Written by Tim Dawson

March 26th, 2010 at 8:16 am

Ian Reeves

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There are an increasing number of examples in the United States of media outlets being funded by community donations

  • National Public Radio raises 30% of its revenue from ‘pledge drives’
  • News sites in New York, Chicago and Minnesota have also had some success with this model
  • A handful of individuals have also sought reader-funding for their work, although there aren’t any examples of this working particularly well

There are some interesting examples of community-funded journalism from the United States.  It is plausible to ask a diverse community to donate to something that they consider a common cause.  The election of Barak Obama is a great example.  He used digital media to mobilise and raise funds for his campaign.  He raised record sums, more than $600m dollars from more than 2.5m individuals. More than that half of that was from individuals who gave between $5 and $200.  The average online donation was $80.  So, yes, it is plausible.

But is it plausible to ask a diverse community to pay for journalism?  There is a news-based organisation that operates more foreign bureaus than any other mainstream USA media; that has an operating budget of $150m per annum. And its audience has grown 47% in the last decade.  It is called National Public Radio (NPR) – which is rather an old fashioned brand, but its model depends on donations from its listeners.  It is actually a network of radio stations.  They frequently have ‘pledge drives’.  Station presenters directly ask the audience for money.  About 30% of NPR’s revenue comes from that source.

WAMU is Washington-based.  Its main pledge drive is in February.  Last year it raised $1.2m directly from pledges.  NPR, although not entirely community-funded, demonstrates that people can be persuaded to pay for something that is free-to-air.

It is an established organisation, however, with an entrenched infrastructure.  Is the model workable further down the food chain of journalism?  Would it work on a smaller outfit, or help to fund a start-up?

There are news organisations where they are trying to make it work.  The Gotham Gazette (gothamgazette.com) regularly runs reader appeals, usually for specific purposes.  In a recent one, the Gazette said that it wanted to fund a reporter for a particular part of the city.  So, they ran a $25,000 funding campaign for a reporter to cover that beat – and they were successful.

Chi Town Daily News (chitowndailynews.org) – is another not-for-profit news site.  Most of its funding comes from grants – but it has raised $25,000 from reader appeals.  The site has now closed.  Its owners thought that it was falling 60% short of funding needed.

The most positive example is Minnpost.com, based in Minnesota.  All its content is free-to-view, but they have a ‘membership approach’ to raising funds.  Depending on the amount that you pledge, then you are accorded ‘media baron’ status, or ‘city editor’ or, ‘cub reporter’ for a $10 donation.  In the first 12 months, 1,250 people signed up to the Minnpost.com as donor members at different levels. It was initially funded by various grants, but they have a robust business plan.  They hope to break even by 2011 or 2012, and appear to be on line for that.

The Miami Herald has started soliciting donations from readers. You see at the bottom of all their online stories a tip-jar style feature.  The paper is making positive noises about how they are doing, but some argue that it amounts to begging, and will damage their brand in the eyes of prestige advertisers.

Could you scale it down for an individual journalist to use a similar model on line? There are examples which give some credence to the idea.  Chris Allbritton (back-to-iraq.com) is a former AP and New York Daily Post journalist.  He was covering Iraq for the NY Daily Post.  They called him home and he wanted to stay.  He had been doing a blog that had quite a lot of readers, so he asked his readers if they would stump up to keep him there as a non-embedded war reporter.  He got $15,000, which was not enough for what he wanted to do, but it was enough for him to stay there for several months, just writing for that audience.

In 2005, tech blogger, Jason Kottke (kottke.org), had a three-week fund raising drive, made $40,000 from ‘micro patrons’.  He found the pressure of that number of owners to be far too onerous –  1,500 bosses was too many.  His relationship with the readers changed.  He could not go on holiday.

Jim Hopkins, launched a blog about Gannett (gannettblog.blogspot.com).  He is a former editor from USA Today.  He set up a blog about the company and asked if followers would donate.  He wanted to raise $24,000 to cover the costs he felt he was incurring running this blog.  In six months he raised half of that, but again, the pressure grew too much.  “I have grown weary of people second-guessing how I live.  Imagine having dozens of parents chastising you for taking a vacation?” he said.

So, the idea of community funding is plausible; but it is not a silver bullet.  There aren’t any examples going on over here, to speak of.  But it is worthy of investigation.

Ian Reeves is director of learning at the department of journalism at the University of Kent and a former editor of Press Gazette. He has made a study of how ‘crowdfunding’ works in the USA, both in the national public radio network and on news websites and of how the approach might be applied in Britain.

Written by Tim Dawson

March 26th, 2010 at 8:16 am