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Charles Warner

Charles Warner

Posted: January 8, 2010 08:53 AM

How to Save Journalism: Part II

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In Part I I recommended that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation put up a $5 billion challenge grant to set up a Journalism Preservation Foundation (JPF) and then pressure other media billionaires to contribute to get the fund up to $10 billion.

The next step I suggested was to wrest The New York Times away from the Sulzberger family, force the paper into bankruptcy, and then get some smart business people committed to journalism, not to maximizing profits, to set up a non-profit organization similar to NPR, renegotiate onerous union contracts, and run the Times like a lean start-up committed to continuing its tradition of journalistic excellence.

What should be the JPF's next step? What about other failing newspapers?

Saving journalism is not about saving newspapers; many don't need or deserve to be saved. Saving journalism is not about perpetuating deprecated printing and distribution systems. Saving journalism doesn't mean saving the jobs of high-paying executives and managers who had no clue how to innovate once faced with the disruptive technology that knocked down the barriers to entry to their precious monopolies. Saving journalism is not about anything on commercial television, which is about entertainment, not news or journalism.

Saving journalism is about establishing, sustaining, and rewarding news organizations that practice journalism, the first principle of which is accuracy, not profits. Therefore, the goal of the JPF should be set up non-profit news organizations which maximize revenue in order to produce relevant, important journalism, especially investigative reporting, written by experienced, qualified reporters.

So how do news organizations generate revenue? Depending primarily on advertising (online or offline) is not a viable model that will keep news organizations independent, impartial, and dedicated to accuracy. The NPR and local station affiliate model is a good one because it provides multiple revenue streams, with listener contributions being the main source of revenue for local stations (which in turn buy their programming from NPR), followed by underwriting (advertising) and funding from foundations. Also, the JPF could help fund many worthy news organizations.

Inevitably a viable news revenue model will have to include charging for content. Major newspapers must charge for their content or make staff cuts so deep that the few reporters they can afford to hire will become cheap stenographers rather than crusading journalists.

One way to charge for content would be to follow Rupert Murdoch's lead and try to work out a deal with Microsoft's search engine, Bing.

Apparently Murdoch is in negotiations with Microsoft to work out a deal by which MS would pay Murdoch a fee and his newspapers' Web content, primarily the Wall Street Journal's, would be available only via Bing searches. The WSJ would put a snipped of code on its content that would block it from being available via Google searches.

If the WSJ, the NY Times, the Washington Post, and major newspapers and magazines were able to make a deal with Bing and keep their content from Google, people would add a Bing search box to their toolbar and use it instead of or in combination with Google.

Such a deal is the only chance Bing has to compete with Google and one of several ways major news content providers (other than television news, which is entertainment, not news) have for long-term survival - a win-win for everyone but Google, which doesn't really need another win.

 

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