Will journalism survive the death of its institutions? Yes, absolutely — but the looming question today is how? Arguments for paid content models, from subscriptions to micropayments, have the well-meaning intent of financially sustaining journalism amidst the upheaval. But is putting up paywalls between content and readers really the answer?
As Dave Cohn recently suggested, the net benefit to society from freely available journalism outweighs the disruption we’re currently experiencing. What’s more, talk about locking free content back up after it’s already been released into the wild sounds like an exercise in futility; “woulda, coulda, shoulda” is the mantra of looking backwards when now, more than ever, we need to be looking forwards in search of new solutions.
With that in mind, I’m starting a series of posts containing various ideas I’ve had over the past few months that attempt, from a variety of angles, to answer the question, “How do we ensure that the best traditions of journalism have a place in the new mediascape?”
1. Local news orgs should partner with public access stations
When local newspapers make the transition to producing online and multimedia content, they face the daunting prospect of not only acquiring new equipment (video cameras and accessories, editing software, etc.), but also training their staff to use it. Partnering with a local public access station could help news organizations jump this hurdle. Public access stations are equipped with professional production tools and offer workshops taught by seasoned video experts.
Local news organizations would do well to partner with public access for another reason: public access is traditionally home to a vibrant body of citizen journalists and engaged members of the community. I see a lot of potential for fruitful collaborations by adding professional journalists to the mix.
2. Journalists as primary content producers
The Internet is defined in large part by its strong culture of remixing and redistributing content. But before content can be remixed or redistributed, it must first originate from somewhere — and that’s where journalism comes in. Let news organizations adopt the mindset of being production companies (as per the MediaStorm model), and journalists as primary content producers infusing the digital world with fresh, original reporting from the physical world. This also has potential to dovetail nicely with printcasting.
The key idea here is that journalism can be financially supported not by demanding payment from readers, but by charging secondary content producers when licensing content out to them for re-use.
3. Let’s start a journalism seedbank
As newspapers shut down across the country, many communities risk completely losing the journalistic voice representing their area. It goes without saying that this is a serious and immediate problem: who will act as a watchdog of power and an advocate for the voiceless when the last newsroom in a town or city goes under?
In agriculture, seedbanks are storage centers where diverse seed samples are kept in case natural disasters wipe out existing supplies, so that if the worst should happen, plantlife can be cultivated anew. I propose we form a seedbank for journalism, so that whenever a community loses a vital news organization, something with just as much (if not more) integrity and credibility can spring up to take its place. The seedbearers can be anyone from former newsroom staff, to a local news startup, to a citizen journalism movement, or a combination of all three.
I envision an online journalism seedbank as a place to share advice, tutorials, tip sheets, case studies in ethics, and best practices. This is similar in a lot of ways to the mission of the CoPress network, only with a wider scope. Part social network, part wiki, part group blog, it would help in the regrowth of good journalism wherever needed.