The News Frontier: Innovation in Journalism Is Hard but Necessary

by on September 11, 2009 · 11 comments

Michael Anderson from Niemanlab.org reports:

In the two months since Ann Arbor became the nation’s newest no-newspaper town, there’s been lots of talk about its status as ground zero for the new ecosystem of Web-native niche outlets. But I wanted to know: In a business that’s always been oiled by routine — midnight press runs, 6 a.m. broadcasts, 11 a.m. news meetings, 6:30 deadlines — how will tomorrow’s hyperlocal news professionals structure their day? So, a few weeks after the Ann Arbor News folded, I spent a morning with its most established successor, the one-year-old, online-only Ann Arbor Chronicle, to get a sense for the future of the newsroom routine.

Anderson’s story paints a vivid picture of entrepreneurship in news delivery, at least on the editorial side of the operation. I’d love to hear more about the business side of the venture. How much revenue are these sites generating per view or per user? How can they increase revenue? Are they experimenting with selling their ad inventory through ad networks that offer personalized (“behaviorally targeted”) ads to increase revenue? What do they think of Google’s new micropayments venture?

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    St. Louis isn't a no-newspaper town-yet. But it may soon be. Before that happens, though Emily Pulitzer–who knows just a little bit about newspapers–founded a not-for-profit:

    http://www.stlbeacon.org/

    This is, as readers of TLF should know, a development that I had predicted in comments to several posts by Adam T. Adam reply with invective and name calling. Time for Adam to admit he was wrong.

    But, aside from noting that the TLFers are mentally incapable of perceiving any new trend that is not centered around their very limited understanding of free market economics, the development and continued extension of the not-for-profit sector into areas that they historically hadn't been part of seems interesting, and I am wondering why libertarians dislike it so.

  • http://techliberation.com/author/berinszoka/ Berin Szoka

    Woah, EF. I'm not sure what Adam said to you, but I for one don't have a problem with the idea that non-profits will play a larger role in journalism in the future. In fact, that's part of the kind of innovation I think will be necessary—not just in technologies but in business models as well. I happen to be a fan of the non-profit, since I work for one (PFF) and am on the Board of another (The Space Frontier Foundation, which I recently chaired).

    So whatever Adam might or might have said to you, we're no monolith. In any event, “free market economics” isn't just about maximizing financial gain. Freedom is about allowing many different actors to pursue different values, which often means something very different from simple economic profit.

    But let's be clear about one thing: the restraints imposed on non-profit corporations will pose a significant challenge to the journalistic independence of the media. I don't just mean the obvious fact that 501(c)(3)s are barred from endorsing candidates and strictly limited in their ability to “lobby” (i.e., endorse legislation) to under 20% of their budget (to simplify matters). The bigger concern is that non-profit organizations are essentially licensed by the State. If they lose their license (their tax-exempt status), they may simply go out of business. This gives the government enormous power over non-profits. The current system has worked tolerably well, with sufficiently clear guidelines that it's difficult for an administration to use the IRS to bully non-profits, but the Clinton Administration sure tried and I'm sure other administrations of both parties have and will do so.

    But I worry that attempts to shoe-horn the unique newsgathering and editorial role of newspapers into the non-profit status will ultimately end up only giving the government more leverage. Organizations that fear losing their license will shy away from criticizing incumbents and the government in general. Just look at Broadcast, especially under the so-called “Fairness Doctrine.” Perversely, we could see the new media that rise out of the ashes of newspapers being treated a lot more like broadcasters and a lot less like newspapers for First Amendment purposes. That would mean a great reduction in freedom of speech.

  • http://www.techliberation.com Adam Thierer

    What the hell are you talking about? Wrong about what? Non-profits being able to be a part of the new media landscape? Did I say that somewhere? If so, cite it. Don't just make it up like you do all your other “facts.”

    Non-profits absolutely have a roll to play in the media marketplace. They always have. They only point I have made about non-profits and journalism is that we should not expect them to be the ONLY business method or model for journalism going forward.

  • http://techliberation.com/author/berinszoka/ Berin Szoka

    Woah, EF. I'm not sure what Adam said to you, but I for one don't have a problem with the idea that non-profits will play a larger role in journalism in the future. In fact, that's part of the kind of innovation I think will be necessary—not just in technologies but in business models as well. I happen to be a fan of the non-profit, since I work for one (PFF) and am on the Board of another (The Space Frontier Foundation, which I recently chaired).

    So whatever Adam might or might have said to you, we're no monolith. In any event, “free market economics” isn't just about maximizing financial gain. Freedom is about allowing many different actors to pursue different values, which often means something very different from simple economic profit.

    But let's be clear about one thing: the restraints imposed on non-profit corporations will pose a significant challenge to the journalistic independence of the media. I don't just mean the obvious fact that 501(c)(3)s are barred from endorsing candidates and strictly limited in their ability to “lobby” (i.e., endorse legislation) to under 20% of their budget (to simplify matters). The bigger concern is that non-profit organizations are essentially licensed by the State. If they lose their license (their tax-exempt status), they may simply go out of business. This gives the government enormous power over non-profits. The current system has worked tolerably well, with sufficiently clear guidelines that it's difficult for an administration to use the IRS to bully non-profits, but the Clinton Administration sure tried and I'm sure other administrations of both parties have, too, and will do so again in the future.

    But I worry that attempts to shoe-horn the unique newsgathering and editorial role of newspapers into the non-profit status will ultimately end up only giving the government more leverage. Organizations that fear losing their license will shy away from criticizing incumbents and the government in general. Just look at Broadcast, especially under the so-called “Fairness Doctrine.” Perversely, we could see the new media that rise out of the ashes of newspapers being treated a lot more like broadcasters and a lot less like newspapers for First Amendment purposes. That would mean a great reduction in freedom of speech.

  • http://www.techliberation.com Adam Thierer

    What the hell are you talking about? Wrong about what? Non-profits being able to be a part of the new media landscape? Did I say that somewhere? If so, cite it. Don't just make it up like you do all your other “facts.”

    Non-profits absolutely have a roll to play in the media marketplace. They always have. They only point I have made about non-profits and journalism is that we should not expect them to be the ONLY business method or model for journalism going forward.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    St. Louis isn't a no-newspaper town-yet. But it may soon be. Before that happens, though Emily Pulitzer–who knows just a little bit about newspapers–founded a not-for-profit:

    http://www.stlbeacon.org/

    This is, as readers of TLF should know, a development that I had predicted in comments to several posts by Adam T. Adam reply with invective and name calling. Time for Adam to admit he was wrong.

    But, aside from noting that the TLFers are mentally incapable of perceiving any new trend that is not centered around their very limited understanding of free market economics, the development and continued extension of the not-for-profit sector into areas that they historically hadn't been part of seems interesting, and I am wondering why libertarians dislike it so.

  • http://techliberation.com/author/berinszoka/ Berin Szoka

    Woah, EF. I'm not sure what Adam said to you, but I for one don't have a problem with the idea that non-profits will play a larger role in journalism in the future. In fact, that's part of the kind of innovation I think will be necessary—not just in technologies but in business models as well. I happen to be a fan of the non-profit, since I work for one (PFF) and am on the Board of another (The Space Frontier Foundation, which I recently chaired).

    So whatever Adam might or might have said to you, we're no monolith. In any event, “free market economics” isn't just about maximizing financial gain. Freedom is about allowing many different actors to pursue different values, which often means something very different from simple economic profit.

    But let's be clear about one thing: the restraints imposed on non-profit corporations will pose a significant challenge to the journalistic independence of the media. I don't just mean the obvious fact that 501(c)(3)s are barred from endorsing candidates and strictly limited in their ability to “lobby” (i.e., endorse legislation) to under 20% of their budget (to simplify matters). The bigger concern is that non-profit organizations are essentially licensed by the State. If they lose their license (their tax-exempt status), they may simply go out of business. This gives the government enormous power over non-profits. The current system has worked tolerably well, with sufficiently clear guidelines that it's difficult for an administration to use the IRS to bully non-profits, but the Clinton Administration sure tried and I'm sure other administrations of both parties have, too, and will do so again in the future.

    But I worry that attempts to shoe-horn the unique newsgathering and editorial role of newspapers into the non-profit status will ultimately end up only giving the government more leverage. Organizations that fear losing their license will shy away from criticizing incumbents and the government in general. Just look at Broadcast, especially under the so-called “Fairness Doctrine.” Perversely, we could see the new media that rise out of the ashes of newspapers being treated a lot more like broadcasters and a lot less like newspapers for First Amendment purposes. That would mean a great reduction in freedom of speech.

  • http://www.techliberation.com Adam Thierer

    What the hell are you talking about? Wrong about what? Non-profits being able to be a part of the new media landscape? Did I say that somewhere? If so, cite it. Don't just make it up like you do all your other “facts.”

    Non-profits absolutely have a roll to play in the media marketplace. They always have. They only point I have made about non-profits and journalism is that we should not expect them to be the ONLY business method or model for journalism going forward.

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