"I've joined with the Missouri School of Journalism's Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute and three collaborators to develop what we hope will be a part of the solution to sustaining journalism. It's called Circulate," says Densmore in an email to his friends and supporters. Colleague Martin Langeveld writes about the idea saying that Circulate will provide a method of billing subscribers for content but will differ from other systems that have been proposed because it will be "user centric" meaning that it will be designed to work with browsers and hand-held devices to learn and respond to user tastes and preferences so that it becomes a tool that intelligently automates the search process that many uses routinely use to select the news content they wish to read. The new venture's homepage is http://www.circlabs.com.
Densmore's idea is one of a class of solutions tagged Information Valets. Many of the new Internet billing schemes are driven by the news media's need to fund its operations and not by the consumer's need to get the information they want as easily as possible.
About a month ago more than 100 journalism industry leaders met in Washington DC to "create a new business model" for their profession (more here). Clearly these men and women are not prepared to let professional journalism quietly disappear. If they realize their vision, we will all benefit from news reporting that is increasingly consumer driven rather than advertiser driven. Unlike traditional print delivery of news, the new internet based systems will provide instant feedback about what people are interested in reading. At the same time, it will be much easier to identify and serve niche markets and specialized user interests.
One of the challenges facing OpEdNews and other internet media where volunteers are the principal contributors is maintaining the quality of content. The funding from advertisements and contributions is barely sufficient to pay operating costs and leaves nothing for the sort of rigorous editing and fact checking that the best commercial news media do routinely. Volunteer editors with limited resources and time generally accept articles at face value taking into consideration the writer's credentials, the sources cited, and their personal awareness of world events. This does not usually provide for investigative journalism of the sort undertaken by career journalists. And contributors are often activists with many intentional and unintentional biases.
The openness and ease of access to publication has been a great advantage to new writers. Virtually anyone worldwide can submit a story for publication with excellent prospects of success. Gone is the editorial filter that blocks access for all but writers who are known and respected by editors. But the same constraints that prevent effective fact checking also prevent editorial mentoring of new writers. Quality suffers.
Readers will ultimately benefit from having access to a mix of media from both career and volunteer journalists. Open access to readers will keep the career journalists on their toes, and the higher technical standards of the for-profit media will sharpen the volunteers. As traumatic as the coming changes are for the industry, much good can be expected from them.