Micah J. Sifry writes, in his article Three Modest Proposals for Online Journalism's Future some ideas for making sure that journalism not only remains robust, but also evolves.
We, meaning democracy, need journalists but not necessarily newspapers. We need investigators and analysts, muckrakers and data diggers, catchers, scoopers, finders, see-ers and detectors. We need the work of journalism. That needs to be funded somehow. Printing newspapers is fading as a viable economic model. But the WAY to get the news out to people, the technology to take content and enable it to be found by the people who need it is better than ever. If anything, the use of the newspaper, pay to read model is hampering the process of enabling news and the product of journalists to be found.
There are blogs and wikis, on-line media sites like propublica and <a href="http://www.opednews.com">OpEdNews.com</a> and huffingtonpost's off the bus and newsvine and other sites offer ways for independent writers to get their information and idea out. OpEdNews.com already has a group support function that enables groups to join and share information, and we also have pages for every nation in the world, every state, county and major metro area in the US and all provinces in Canada and Australia.
We had dozens of articles by Nepalese freedom fighters before democracy was achieved and the monarch stepped down. We've had numerous reports from The Pakistani regions where Bin Laden lives and routinely know about missile strikes, taliban actions and the like days before CNN reports it. Did it cost $10 million to build or maintain it? NO. We did it with member contributions under $60 K a year and a total of $21,000 in grants from sunlight, bread and roses foundations and a private donor. We also do polls, customized action pages, and we have some of the most sophisticated software available for volunteer editors to use to run an article submission queue and to deal with flagged comments.
What the USA and the world needs is a new way of thinking about funding journalism and journalists who can feed content to existing and emerging FREE content sites like the ones described above. I believe the model to use is the way the arts are funded. The government provides hundreds of millions in funding and should be spending more. Construction companies must include, in many locales, an art budget when building major edifices. Communities create arts councils, fairs and events to support and promote local art. We should do this with journalism. The government should invest a billion dollars to fund 20,000 journalists, for starters. Consider this an investment that will be paid back many times as the journalists uncover waste and corruption and educate the public. Communities should support local journalism efforts-- full and part time. Corporations should pay a small tax to support a fund that goes to pay for journalists that investigate those corporations-- to protect the investors from corruption, waste and abuses of power. Again this will be an investment that pays for itself many times over.
When I propose this idea, people have a knee-jerk reaction that it's a bad idea for the government to employ journalists. But artist who receive funding are not government employees. They are independents who get grants. The same can be done with funding journalists.
Here's where it gets interesting. Crowdsourcing and the wisdom of the crowds can be used to decide how much journalists are to be paid. Articles can be offered free through various feeds and access points for editors and users to post to their blogs to facebook, to digg, to all kinds of sites. When readers like the articles and value them, they can rate them and give the writers points that will accumulate. The writers with the most points, and this can be a basket of the many possible measures-- page views, email forwards, number of comments, ratings on different measures, favoriting, number of fans... At OpEdNews.com we use most of these as a way to enable our readers to <a href="click here using different forms of "popularity.</a>
The bottom line is that funding investigative journalism is just about sure thing-- that it will result in savings and loss prevention-- monetarily and societally-- far beyond the money spent. We need to jump on this soon. The old system is already failing, on its death bed and no longer doing the job we need it to do and which could be done so much better.
Just because all the possibilities have not yet been sorted out yet doesn't mean we should wait until the last final death throes are over before doing something to replace our archaic media system. We need to start talking about and funding the new journalism NOW-- and that may mean we have to walk the gauntlet of accusations of socialism that Universal healthcare is also subjected to. Just remember that the people casting the accusations are the ones who benefit most from the lack of light caused by the death of the old media. They have to be taken on and overcome. They will decry and attempt to diminish the light-- it's truth, it's purity, it's reliability-- because they do their business better in darkness. They are losing. They will fail. But we must take action and not assume that as the newspaper industry dies, journalism will simply, naturally adapt. We have to make the new world of journalism happen.
At OpEdNews.com our readers and writers-- 27,000 registered members, 400-800K unique visitors a month-- describe us as "the People's media." The future is bottom-up journalism on the web, accessible by all forms of media technology.