Journalistic Practice

No revenue model for news? Labor steps up

David Westphal, Online Journalism Review

At the recent Harvard session on new business models for news, I offered an off-the-beaten-path idea to the question of who will pay for the news. One answer, I said, was non-news organizations: NGOs, trade associations, businesses, governments and labor unions.

Yes, labor unions. There are indications of a back-to-the-future trend in labor funding for the news. Just in the last several months, two labor unions in southern California have provided six-figure funding for very different kinds of operations - Voice of Orange County, an independent news site working toward a January launch, and Accountable California, a direct arm of Local 721, Service Employees International Union.

The idea that legitimate journalism might flow from "special-interest" labor money would have seemed a non-starter to many of us not long ago. How could journalists provide fair and unfettered accounts when their paychecks were the product of an organization with a clear political agenda? In fact, though, Voice of Orange County and Accountable California are simply a revival of a kind of journalism that permeated American life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries - labor-backed newspapers.

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Shield law compromise would protect independent journalists and bloggers

Charlie Savage, New York Times/The Caucus

The Obama administration and key Democrats have reached a tentative agreement on a proposed law to provide greater protections to reporters against being fined or imprisoned if they refuse to identify confidential sources.

Under the proposed agreement, a so-called media shield law would allow federal judges to quash subpoenas against reporters if they determine that the public interest in the news outweighed the government’s need to uncover the leaker – including, in some circumstances, disclosures of classified national security information.

The proposal would also extend coverage to unpaid bloggers engaged in gathering and disseminating news information.

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NPR Fires a Top Black Manager

Richard Prince, Journal-isms

Less than 24 hours after hosting the National Association of Black Journalists at its headquarters in Washington, National Public Radio let go the black journalist in charge of its newscasts, Greg Peppers, one of two black men in newsroom management at the network.

Peppers, who has been with NPR since the 1980s, was escorted out of the building Friday, colleagues said. He was executive producer of NPR's newscast unit.

"We don't comment on [an] employee's reasons for departure or any other personnel matters," spokeswoman Anna Christopher told Journal-isms.

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Save the News campaign event energizes Denver

Gavin Dahl, Reclaim the Media

Over 200 people gathered in downtown Denver for a Save the News event organized by Kim Humphreys of I Want My Rocky and Josh Stearns and Craig Aaron of Free Press Wednesday night Sept 16. Stearns stated "a vital part of the news ecosystem" was lost 6 months ago when Rocky Mountain News was closed by the E. W. Scripps corporation. Three months prior to the Feb 27 final edition Humphreys found out her employer was being put up for sale. She had the idea to organize because, as the site says, "Without watchdogs, our democracy won't work. As journalists, we can't be objective about our own existence."

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A Hard look at foundation-funded journalism

Steve Katz, Save the News

If the events of the past couple of months are any indication, the future of foundation-funded, nonprofit journalism looks pretty good right now. Consider:

  • Sheri Fink’s 13,000-word investigation into the facts behind the deaths at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center put foundation-funded journalism (in this case, by the Kaiser Family Foundation Media Fellowship in Health program and by the Sandler Family Foundation’s support for Fink’s employer, ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative reporting outfit) on the mainstream media map;
  • A gathering at the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation’s Pocantico estate of about two dozen nonprofit news organizations, including the Center for Public Integrity, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and several local online news operations from San Diego, Seattle, Texas, St. Louis and elsewhere, led to the formation of a new Investigative News Network that may become a delivery vehicle for foundation funding for a number of media operations, as well as an opportunity for networked collaborative reporting;
  • And at least two states, Vermont and Illinois, have approved legislation authorizing the so-called “L3C” corporate structure, which (as Jim Barnett writes at his blog) “allows a corporation to take on investors who are willing to accept varying rates of return - or possibly none at all.” This L3C option could give budding nonprofit journalism outfits access to both philanthropic and straight-up private investor money.
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Seattle Times partners with neighborhood news sites

Seattle Times

The Seattle Times and several neighborhood news Web sites in Seattle are joining forces as part of an interactive journalism project.

Kathy Best, managing editor with responsibility for, said the sites are among the leading neighborhood newsgathering operations in Seattle, staffed by professionals who share The Times' journalistic values.

Suki Dardarian, managing editor of The Times' print editions, said, "We're thrilled to be part of building something that can help this community and at the same time contribute to the profession of journalism."

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Tribune boss Zell on way out

David Roeder, Chicago Sun Times

Sam Zell's days as a media titan in Chicago are nearly over.

The motorcycle-riding billionaire, renowned for his deft touch with real estate and corporate turnarounds, took Tribune Co. private in late 2007 promising to energize the lumbering company. He piled on debt at exactly the wrong time, and a collapse in advertising for traditional media forced him to take the company to Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Eight months after the filing, two sources familiar with the process said creditors are working on a reorganization plan that elbows Zell aside. The creditors, including investment banks owed $8.6 billion from Zell's Tribune takeover, would stage a takeover of their own and sell off the company's newspapers and broadcast stations as they see fit.

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Radio journalists threatened in El Salvador

Radio Victoria,

In April this year the work of Information Radio Victoria has been thwarted by the disappearance of the group's radio transmitter. As of July 23 2009, four community reporters began receiving letters and telephone messages in which they were threatened to be the "next on the list" and that "we also spoke in San Isidro "making a clear reference to the link between these events and the disappearance and murder of colleague Marcelo Gustavo Rivera.

As part of his journalistic work, Radio Victoria informs the public of the Department of Cabañas in El Salvador and, generally, the broad resistance movement against mining operations which would serve to profit Canadian company Pacific Rim. The radio team also covered the issue of voter fraud in the San Isidro elections in January this year and the recent disappearance and death of environmentalist and social activist Gustavo Marcelo Rivera.

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News ecosystem needs collaboration, not us vs. them mentality

Chris O’Brien, MediaShift

One of the great tragedies that I see in the current debate about the future of journalism is the way the discussion continues to be framed around a series of binary choices. Newspapers or blogs. Print or online. Journalists or algorithms.

In each case, there seems to be a simple-minded belief that the future will inevitably be one or the other. I consider this tragic because the result is a lot of dead-end debates that devolve into spitball fights about whether one will replace the other. My belief is that the better conversation is about how these things should complement each other and extend and enrich our journalism. That is the great opportunity of this moment.

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Saving America's democracy-sustaining journalism

Victor Pickard and Joe Torres, Seattle Times

NEWSPAPERS are in trouble. Big media companies are in bankruptcy, century-old newsrooms have shut their doors, and thousands of journalists have lost their jobs. The day seems imminent when a major American city will wake up without a broadsheet on anyone's doorstep.

The public's changing media habits have eroded the newspaper industry's monopoly on the local ad market. Today, more people get their news online than from newspapers. Fewer people are willing to pay for classified ads and are opting instead to place ads online. This is bad news for an industry that earns 90 percent of its revenue from print ads.

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The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey