Monday, October 20, 2008

How Newspapers Can Adapt to the Internet Age

I’m intrigued by an idea I’ve recently read about called “community funded journalism.” A website called Spot.us seeks ideas for investigative articles that people feel should be done and then asks the community to provide the funds to pay journalists to do the work … the end result of which is published on the site. Obviously, if there is no response, the story dies.

Why am I intrigued? Because if properly handled, it could be a very democratic and collaborative way to save newspapers and one that, but for the Internet, could not happen. It also offers public relations professionals an alternative to a relevant editor in the print media who is holding back a commitment to cover a client story that desperately needs to be told. We, of course, all realize that this “Spot.us innovation” has come about because the rise of the internet has resulted in a decline in advertising support of newspapers.

The good news is that an article that flies via Spot.us truly has the support of various groups; in fact, that support (or lack of it) adds an element of measurement before the article is even printed. Furthermore, anyone can propose a story about anything. This further empowers citizens. Newspapers can develop their own website version of Spot.us, setting it up as a supplement to their print editions.

What are the possible downsides of this creative idea? The New York Times notes: (1) If an organization with an agenda sponsors an article, the piece could be biased. Therefore, Spot.us limits every contributor to no more than 20 percent of the total cost. It also seems Spot.us should cite the profiles of the contributors, if not the names themselves. (2) This approach enables journalism to be bought by the highest bidder. But, once again, limiting the percent any one contributor makes can offset this problem. (3) Newspapers have a right to purchase these stories from Spot.us but then they would need to disclose that they did so and perhaps even reveal the profile of the underwriter. (4) News that is important may not get the support it should, and key stories could be lost.

This “crowdfunding” approach is worth thinking about because it is another example of how newspapers might adapt their model to the Internet age, and help solve their financial problems. Of course, their profits would have to be taken into account and when arriving at a price, many journalists would become free agents, receiving assignments from multiple news organizations, thereby employing many of those who are now out of work.



Technorati Tags: newspapers, internet, community funded journalism, Spot.us, community, The New York Times, crowdfunding, business, communications, public relations

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