My students would chastise me. I have broken the golden rule of good blogging behaviour – I haven’t posted regularly. It has been the start of the semester and I have been frantic, however, that is no excuse so I am back with some interesting food for thought.
Two things have got me thinking about the issue of money and journalists in the online media world. Firstly this post on the Online Journalism blog. In it, karthikaswamy discusses the current trend of shifting the costs of reporting (particularly investigative stories) onto the shoulders of the reporter. She uses examples of a number of stories which are published by an influential newspaper website, like the New York Times, but financed by a combination of not-for-profits like Spot.Us (where readers pledge donations to fund stories of interest to them) and the individual journalist. This may be a method for ensuring important stories are covered by what of the precedent that it sets? Like karthikaswamy, I find it a scary concept that this could be hailed as the future model of journalism. We cannot rely on a model of report now and maybe get paid later – this isn’t sustainable.
While mulling this concept over a question by a student also got me thinking. I am taking an introductory online journalism subject this semester and we began by looking at some of the opportunities and differences offered by online reporting – including the ability to track exactly what an online visitor reads and for how long. Quite rightly, this student then asked – Does that mean that journalists are paid per-view? This isn’t a new concept. Many have claimed that the ‘Gawker model’, where contributors to the blog aggregator are paid in relation to the number of page views their copy generates, is the future of online journalism. In Australia, this idea was thrust into the spotlight when a reviewer for PC World claimed he was sacked because his reviews didn’t generate enough hits.
Just like the issue of who pays for the legwork to get a story up, a shift in the way publishers and journalists make money means a shift in what gets written and what gets published. Yes, we need to find a viable business model for online journalism and that means considering other ways of funding story research and perhaps paying journalists. But given the important democratic and social role played by quality investigative journalism can we allow this to be dictated purely by an economic model? I fear that journalism as we know it is not a sustainable model. It has existed to date on advertising and the barriers produced by the costs of production and distribution. With the accessability of the online medium reducing the revenue (advertising) and the media’s protected niche (production and distribution barriers) – how do we keep the business of providing factual and essential investigations viable without succumbing to the issues of new economic models?