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Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

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Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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March 26, 2009

Rosen's Flying Seminar In The Future of News

For March 2009. The pace quickened after Clay Shirky's Thinking the Unthinkable. Here's my best-of from a month of deep think as people came to terms with the collapse of the newspaper model, and tried looking ahead. I know these twelve links work. I tested them on Twitter.

As the crisis in newspaper journalism grinds on, people watching it are trying to explain how we got here, and what we’re losing as part of the newspaper economy crashes. Some are trying to imagine a new news system. I try to follow this action, and have been sending around the best of these pieces via my Twitter feed. It’s part of my experiment in mindcasting, which you can read about here.

Lately, the pace has picked up. A trigger was the March 13 appearance of Clay Shirky’s Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable. That essay went viral; it now has a phenomenal 741 trackbacks, making it an instant classic in the online literature about the fate of the press. As good as Shirky’s piece is (very very good, I think) “Thinking the Unthinkable” is only a piece of the puzzle, and mostly backward-pointing.

That’s why I’ve collected the following links. Together, they form a kind of flying seminar on the future of news, presented in real time. They are all from the month of March 2009. The “flying” part is simple: go ahead, steal these links. Spread the seminar. Get your people up to speed.

They are in the order I think you should read them.

1. Paul Starr, Goodbye to the Age of Newspapers (Hello to a New Era of Corruption) (The New Republic, March 4, 2008)

Starr is one of our top sociologists and the author of one of the best books ever on the history of the American media system. He thinks the crisis in newspapers is a crisis for American democracy because the “public goods” they manufacture will not be easy to replace. “Public goods are notoriously under-produced in the marketplace, and news is a public good—and yet, since the mid-nineteenth century, newspapers have produced news in abundance at a cheap price to readers and without need of direct subsidy. More than any other medium, newspapers have been our eyes on the state, our check on private abuses, our civic alarm systems. It is true that they have often failed to perform those functions as well as they should have done. But whether they can continue to perform them at all is now in doubt.”

Starr worries there will be more corruption and malfeasance in government with fewer eyes on the people in power. That places him in good company; lots of people are worried about that. But Starr has a longer and more detailed view of what created the public service press and what we might call the politics of subsidy. We start with him because he’s coming from way back in the history of the American press with his view of what’s in peril today.

2. Yochai Benkler, A New Era of Corruption? (The New Republic, March 4, 2009) Benkler is one of the leading students of the Internet in the world, and a professor at Harvard Law School. He specializes in understanding “commons-based peer production,” an academic (and precise) term for the “open” methods that gave rise to Wikipedia and open source software. Benkler thinks Paul Starr is “too skeptical of the possibilities of the new media” in rising to the occasion if the old press falls apart.

“Like other information goods, the production model of news is shifting from an industrial model—be it the monopoly city paper, IBM in its monopoly heyday, or Microsoft, or Britannica—to a networked model that integrates a wider range of practices into the production system: market and non-market, large scale and small, for profit and nonprofit, organized and individual.” We may be losing capacity in the commercial press but gaining it on the commons, Benkler argues. You have to factor in both.

3. Clay Shirky, Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable. (Blog post, March 13, 2009) Shirky studies media and technology and teaches at NYU. His post shot around the Internet in a matter of days because of the striking way he depicted the loss of reality inside newspaper companies, which saw the crisis coming long ago but were unable to think their way out of it because they never reconciled themselves to the loss of their publishing premises. We solved anew the problem the publishing business had mastered: the distribution of copies. Furthermore, there was no way to prevent it from happening to your stuff!

Between “adapt” and “give up,” the industry found a third path: go on, but minimize mental disruption. “When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution,” Shirky writes. “They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.”

4. Steven Berlin Johnson, Old Growth Media and the Future of News. (Speech and blog post, March 14, 2009) Steven Johnson is also a leading student of technology and an author of several important books. He argues that if we look at technology journalism, the form that was disrupted first by the Internet, there is reason to hope that the fall of the old press will not be the civic disaster that Starr (and many others) have predicted. Technology coverage is better today. There is more of it. It is more diversified, richer.

“When ecologists go into the field to research natural ecosystems, they seek out the old-growth forests, the places where nature has had the longest amount of time to evolve and diversify and interconnect. They don’t study the Brazilian rain forest by looking at a field that was clear cut two years ago. That’s why the ecosystem of technology news is so crucial [to look at]. It is the old-growth forest of the web.” Not a desert, but a thriving ecosystem. (Bonus link: Johnson collected reactions here.)

5. Dan Conover, 2020 vision: What’s next for news. (Blog post, March 20, 2009) Conover is a career newspaper man who, like so many others recently, took the buyout. He also has the creative imagination of a geek, and the restlessness of an entrepeneur. In this post he takes for granted the declining value of newspaper journalism and speculates on what will come next. “Journalists tend to think of the future in terms of their jobs, and from that perspective What’s next is another round of layoffs. Sorry, folks. Do the math. But take a slightly longer view and What’s Next is a decade of experimentation, opportunity and chaos.”

Conover is forward pointing. He describes and hooks you up with 35 different trends, eruptions and development paths that we can watch for. It’s a mentally organized guide to what’s going to happen… or could, according to one man, who knows it from the inside but thinks it from the outside. His post is starting to pick up traction with future-of-news people, as they realize how valuable his watch list is.

6. David Eaves, The Death of Journalism? (or journalism in the era of open) (Blog post, March 17, 2009) Eaves is a Canadian writer specializing in negotiation and public policy— not journalism. His post is the most unusual of those I have collected here. He suspects that a misfiring component in North American journalism is not just the business model for news, but the image of politics and public life that pro journalists take for granted, especially when they are in heroic mode. He points to a certain conception of how truth comes out that is heavily mythologized by our journalists: the exposure model, where things are kept hidden but the reporter acting on behalf of the community and its right to know does the hard work: digging, cultivating sources, being there when the phone rings, meeting in garages if necessary. Eaves asks a simple question about the exposure model: what if the institution involved isn’t trying to keep anything hidden? What if it is trying to be transparent—and succeeding at it—not from the goodness of its civic heart, but because that is the best way for the institution to conduct business in an age of transparency?

Pretty good question. Also true: there’s always a dark side, as Dick Cheney famously put it. Therefore we’ll always need the exposure model, and the acts of courage and persistence that go with it. But Eaves has another brain twister: What if the really big stories we need from the press aren’t gotten by exposure at all because the key facts in them are already public but very, very scattered? No one’s pieced them together; they are “known” but unwoven into any public narrative that allows us to see what was really going on in time to stop it— like with the financial meltdown we are living through. If that’s the problem (and sometimes it is) exposure journalism isn’t an answer, even though we still need people who specialize in that form.

7. Dave Winer: The reboot of journalism (Blog post, March 19, 2009) Dave Winer comes from the tech industry. He makes power tools for people who want to be heard. His frustrations with the industry press pushed him into blogging, and he in turn pushes blogging which means irritating people. Where others look upon creative destruction in the news business and wonder what’s next, Winer thinks “next” is already here. We already have an alternative news system, he says, based on a slightly different idea, which he summarizes as: the sources go direct. Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one, said A. J. Liebling. Blogging means any source can own one.

“Apparently I am one of the very few who think we’re in the middle of the reboot of journalism, not at the start,” says Winer. “It’s not in the future, it’s been happening for a long time.” Anyone who knows how reporting works knows that sources drive stories as much as reporters and editors do. If today it is much easier for sources to publish themselves, that changes the equation. Winer intends to push this point as far as it will go. For him it’s a long fight. “This is what we’ve been working on in the blogging space for 15 years. I wrote about billions of websites in 1995. And before that, desktop publishing and laser printers made it possible to print newsletters in 1986, 23 years ago. All that time, every time a former source started publishing on their own, the process of new journalism took a step forward.”

8. Josh Young, What the Structure of Content Means for Context. (Blog post, March 19, 2009) At his blog, Network(ed) News, Josh Young tries to peer into the information logic underneath the visible forms of news, a valuable thing when models are crashing. Here he conjures with four kinds of news goods: broad and narrow, deep and shallow. So, for example, The Politico is perfecting the production of “narrow and shallow” news; it knows how to extract value working especially hard in that quadrant. In the “broad and deep” category is The Giant Pool of Money by This American Life and NPR (which I wrote about in National Explainer.) But such masterworks are rare.

Young explains how Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo has mostly done away with “the article” as the container of its editorial contribution. Instead, it offers a series of posts, updates, links, stories that are broad and shallow, each one adding a little bit to a big picture, which ends up revealing a lot. These dispatches aren’t meant to be comprehensive; they don’t capture “the” story. “They catch the reader up on past reporting with a few links to previous posts. Or they start off with a link or two to others’ posts or articles, promising to pick up the issue where they left off. Then they take a deep look at a small set of questions, teasing out contradictions, and end up with a set of conclusions or a new, more pointed set of questions for the next post.” And over time, this stream reveals a story, capable of winning a big prize.

9. Mark Morford, Die, newspaper, die? (, March 20, 2009) Morford is a columnist. That’s the website of the San Francisco Chronicle, which is under duress for all the reasons this seminar has spelled out. Morord’s been taking the class. “Shirky, Winer, Johnson et al, a smart, motley crew of big-name, big-brained tech seers and programmers and futurists have weighed in” on the newspaper’s future. “These big guns have all stepped away from their normal discussions of deep tech arcania and turned their attention to a 500-year-old technology undergoing its first epic, bloody revolution.”

And when the smoke clears what should the newspaper do? The “geek gurus” don’t have any idea! Just theories that Morford says he can’t buy. “I hotly disagree with [Shirky’s] unchecked worship of social networking as the imminent platform for — and solution to — well, just about everything that’s wrong with news media today.” He also doubts that Dave Winer’s self-published sources will improve anything. Who’s in charge in such a system? “Everyone. Anyone. You. That guy over there. The judge at the trial, and the jury. The cop. The patrons at the restaurant. The chef. Shirky. Winer himself. You know, citizen journalism. Everyone’s a reporter!” Can you tell he’s a skeptic? Morford delivers on that tone, but he has also a begrudging respect for the “gurus” as analysts of the newspaper’s living demise.

10. Tom Watson, Ink-Stained Retching (Blog post, March 15, 2009) “I come from a newspaper family, and worked as a reporter and editor for more than a dozen years, before peeling off for the allure of my own digital printing press in the 90s,” writes Tom Watson, a blogger and book author. “I love newspapers, and I’ve always believed that they’re central to the American version of representative democracy - a stalwart check on the power of government.” The theme of Ink Stained Retching is loss, which shades into bitterness but… it’s under control. Watson knows what he’s doing, and denial is not his thing.

“The Internet has been a destructive force for many business models, but none threatens the basis of the republic as much as the digital knife busily sawing at the fraying Achilles tendon of American newspapers,” he writes. Shirky’s Unthinkable essay was “a grim and all-too-accurate assessment.” But look at the loss: the newsroom itself, an engine of public good. “The models just don’t work - nothing online sustains a newsroom of 100 reporters and editors working in a beat system. Cut and paste works online. Endless commentary works online (but only pays the aggregators, in most cases). Endless links work. Newsrooms do not.” To him there is nothing good about this situation.

11. Allan Mutter, Why media must charge for web content (March 1, 2009, two parts.) Mutter is a former newspaper journalist who went to Silicon Valley and started companies. He blogs at the intersection of his “twin passions, journalism and technology.” Mutter believes that to save modern journalism news sites will have to begin charging for their content. (Others think so too.) “Free is not a business model that will support journalism produced by professional news organizations,” he writes. And it should never have happened! “When the Internet emerged, most publishers committed the Original Sin of thoughtlessly giving away their content for free in the hopes of attracting millions of page views where they could sell the sort of high-priced ads that had built the value of their print franchises.”

This was not an historic inevitability but a “monumental strategic blunder” that threatens the survival of those franchises. Page-view advertising is not going to sustain them on the Internet. They have to charge. But it won’t be easy. “Given the open and unfettered nature of the web, it is unreasonable to believe generic news can be effectively sequestered behind a pay firewall,” Mutter writes. “A publisher attempting to do this simply would divert readers from his site to some else’s, throttling the traffic that is the lifeblood of any media business.” It has to be journalism “sufficiently unique, authoritative and valuable to motivate consumers to pay for it.” You can’t charge on your own say so. You have to hike the added value, then try to get people to pay for it.

12. Amanda Michel, Get Off the Bus: The future of pro-am journalism (Columbia Journalism Review, March 5, 2009) Amanda Michel was the executive director of a project I co-founded with Arianna Huffington of Huffington Post, OffTheBus.Net. It was intended to test whether a “pro-am” model was possible in political coverage during the 2008 campaign. The pro-am approach looks for the hybrid forms that combine substantial openness with some controls. With OffTheBus, anyone could sign up, but there was an old fashioned gate before publication in the vertical of the Huffington Post the project controlled.

Michel writes in the first person from her experience in organizing over 12,000 contributors to provide a “ground level” view of the campaign, part of which involved going where the on-the-bus press couldn’t go. Distributed reporting projects were another part of it. The nurse with vast practical knowledge writing about the candidates’ health care plans as an informed amateur— that was part of it. “Our experience with OffTheBus demonstrates that what Clay Shirky calls the ‘mass amateurization’ of journalism can provide real breakthroughs—not only in the democratization of news and information but also in bolstering the role of the media as a pillar of democracy. What we did won’t replace what traditional newsrooms do, but if taken seriously and used properly, this pro-am model has the potential to radically extend the reach and effectiveness of professional journalism.” We should not be looking merely to preserve but also to extend and enlarge newsgathering capacity. Pro-am has promise, but there is a long way to go.

A concluding word: I don’t know what will replace the newspaper journalism we have relied on. It’s a terrible loss for the public when people who bought the public service dream lose their jobs providing that service, and realizing that dream. I do not look forward to explaining to my students the contractions in the job market and why they’re likely to continue for the near term. It feels grim to have to say: “There is no business model in news right now. We’re between systems.”

I honestly don’t know what’s next. But I’m a professor of it. So I’m supposed to know where journalism is headed. Instead of that, I have this: my flying seminar from the last month of trying to figure it out. You’re supposed to take the course and feel caught up. I’ve given you a lot of looks at it because the only solution I have to offer is pluralism itself: many funders, many paths, many players, and many news systems with different ideas about how to practice journalism for public good (and how to pay for it, along with who participates) alive at once.

The future of news is open, more entrepreneurial. Open can also mean broken, repair date unknown. If you know how the old one fell apart, it’s easier to put something new together. That’s the faith that makes a seminar like this fly.

* * *

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

In New York if you buy a dozen bagels they give you the 13th for free. In that spirit my bonus link is Doc Searls: After the Advertising Bubble Bursts. He’s been way out in front on that transformation.

News on the future-of-news beat.

I will be senior adviser to a new venture: The Huffington Post Investigative Fund, launched with $1.75 million in initial funding. It will be a new non-profit, producing all kinds of journalism that will be distributed free on the Net. The new operation will be editorially distinct from the Huffington Post itself. See my post about it: Introducing the new Huffington Post Investigative Fund (And My Own Role in It). (March 30, 2009)

Dave Winer and I discuss “the sources go direct” in this 55 minute podcast (mp3 over skype) about rebooting the news. See also this account in the LA Times, which refers to our ‘casts. In the March 29 podcast with Winer, I explain how this post was born on Twitter and tested there, among other topics we explore.

Yes, I am quite aware of the gender imbalance in my post. I am not explaining it, or avoiding it. If you have comparable essays from women writers from the March 2009 explosion, do put them in the comments or email me.

Dan Gillmor in Boing Boing, March 19: Paying for News: A Mega-Merger Thought Experiment. “What would happen if some top English language journalism organizations simply merged and started charging for their breaking news and commentary…?”

If charging for news is your thing and you don’t understand why there’s even a debate about it (“if you’re losing money, you need to charge, right…?”) Tim Burden did a nice round-up of the arguments in February. See Paywall Madness.

Bernie Lunzer, president of the Newspaper Guild (the major union in the business) sent me this link, representing—he said—the Guild’s best thinking. It’s a reply to Shirky and it’s called Brilliant Drivel. Read it for the Guild’s perspective on these things. I asked Lunzer where in Shirky’s post he found the “proclamation that we don’t need newspapers” because I’ve read it four times and I still can’t locate where Clay says anything dismissive like that. And he certainly says we need the public goods newspapers once provided: “The work of print journalists is used by everyone from politicians to district attorneys to talk radio hosts to bloggers.”

Well, Lunzer did reply.

I was probably over-reacting to Shirky when he says, “Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.” It’s really semantic, because after I wrote this blog and went back to look at both pieces - I would have to acknowledge that we are both trying to preserve the same thing. I’m just frustrated, more by the Jeff Jarvis types who think the web will quickly replace what newspapers have represented. So – I was likely guilty of overblown rhetoric – probably should acknowledge that with a coda.

Yeah, especially since Lunzer himself says the Guild is not trying to preserve the newspaper form. “It’s always been about the journalism,” he wrote. That means he agrees with Shirky: we need the journalism, not the newspaper combine. I wouldn’t call that a semantic quibble, mister union president; I would call that: “I didn’t read the essay very carefully, I just lashed out.”

Oh, and Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine does not say it will be easy to replace what newspapers represented. He says the world is changing faster on you than you think. That’s how I hear it.

One of my readers is clamoring for me to include in my best-of David Simon’s piece from March 1st, In Baltimore, No One Left to Press the Police. He’s the former Baltimore Sun cops reporter who went on to create The Wire for HBO, a fantastic achievement. It’s an excellent piece about what you lose when you lose reporters. One part that is (in my opinion) demagogic:

There is a lot of talk nowadays about what will replace the dinosaur that is the daily newspaper. So-called citizen journalists and bloggers and media pundits have lined up to tell us that newspapers are dying but that the news business will endure, that this moment is less tragic than it is transformational.

Well, sorry, but I didn’t trip over any blogger trying to find out McKissick’s identity and performance history. Nor were any citizen journalists at the City Council hearing in January when police officials inflated the nature and severity of the threats against officers.

I’m sure he’s right about the not tripping. But did anyone ever say bloggers would step in for police reporters if the professional police reporters went away? I don’t think so. It’s a dumb idea. Lame-ass linkless jeering at propositions no one’s actually making is standard practice on the newspaper death watch. Tom Watson condemns the “digital triumphalists” but he does not feel strongly enough about their sins to link to any.

Tom does talk to my June, 2008 post Migration Point for the Press Tribe. “The land that newsroom people have been living on—also called their business model—no long supports their best work. So they have come to a reluctant point of realization: that to continue on, to keep the professional press going, the news tribe will have to migrate across the digital divide and re-settle itself on terra nova, new ground. Or as we sometimes call it, a new platform.”

Migration Point
plus “Where’s the Business Model for News, People?” (part of a forum at Britannica asking if newspapers were doomed, with Nicholas Carr and Clay Shirky) plus this post today represent the best of my “newspaper in crisis” writing. What I was saying in 2004: The Migration.

The Newspaper Association of America: Don’t Stop the Presses! Ten experts share their ideas for reinventing the print newspaper.

This speech on the newspaper crisis by the Boston Globe’s editor, Marty Barron, is notable because it accepts the Shirky verdict. (April 2, 2009)

I have seen a few hypotheses for how a major metropolitan newsroom could become online-only. I can honestly say that I have seen none that allows for anything close to the breadth and depth of coverage that metropolitan newspapers offer today. It is not enough to say that something will be sacrificed. In fact, a great deal will be sacrificed.

And yet — and here I’ll quote the Internet scholar Clay Shirky — “’‘You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!’ has never been much of a business model.”

Dan Kennedy in the Guardian makes an argument about the future of newspapers—that it depends on the future of civic involvement—that I began making in 1989. See chapter one of What Are Journalists For? (1999, Yale University Press)

Hey, cool. The head of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation made reference this post in a big speech he gave about the future of journalism. Thanks.

Out of Print: The death and life of the American newspaper by Eric Alterman ran in The New Yorker in a year before these pieces. It covers similar ground but from its own perspective.

Disclosures: Some of these authors I know well, some a little.

I don’t know Paul Starr. But I’ve followed his writings and consider his book, The Creation of the Media, an important work.

I’ve met Yochai Benkler a couple times and I’ve been at conferences with him. He is certainly one of my intellectual heroes.

Clay Shirky is a colleague of mine at NYU, we are on the same side of many Internet issues, I am a fan of his work and he’s friendly to what I do. On Twitter he’s @cshirky.

Steven Johnson is someone I know as a writer in New York and from when he taught at NYU. I am friendly with him and a big admirer of his books. (Big fan base on Twitter.)

Dan Conover (Xarker on Twitter) is a friend of mine and a loyal reader of my blog, PressThink. We sometimes scheme together. To me he’s one of the more creative people in journalism.

David Eaves I did not know prior to being linked to his essay. But he’s on Twitter.

Dave Winer is a friend and fellow blogger; we have worked on conferences together and recently we’ve been doing a series of podcasts on rebooting the news. (Follow him on Twitter)

Josh Young is someone I have not met but I plan to soon. He is jny2 on Twitter.

Mark Morford I do not know. But he follows me on Twitter.

Tom Watson is a blogger whose work I have followed. Here he is on Twitter.

Allan Mutter I recently met after following his blog, Newsosaur for some time.

Amanda Michel I hired to work for me on NewAssignment.Net, then as project director and prime mover in OffTheBus. She now works for ProPublica.

Click here to return to the top of After Matter. To see what I am up to on Twitter go here.

Posted by Jay Rosen at March 26, 2009 1:08 AM   Print


Dear Professor Rosen,

you may be aware of a certain hierarchy that exists between the standardized blog post and the standardized blog comment (i.e.: whereas blog comments are usually "nofollow-space", blog posts are normally "follow-space").

A similar hierarchy exists between URL content (it's the ACTUAL meta-content) and the "on page" content.

I noted this when I posted this week: "here's how the Wisdom of the Language manifests itself in media: The medium is the message - and the domain name IS the medium".

( )

Most people do not understand how revolutionary that concept is. I'm guessing Dave Winer does, and maybe that's why he has blocked me on twitter and deletes my comments on his blog (he apparently doesn't like the idea that he made most of his money by selling his online property -- basically: his investment in the Wisdom of the Language... who knows? maybe he is upset that he sold it too cheaply?).

I commend you for your comment on the "Can Twitter Save the News?" podcast (2009-03-15: ) [ca. 39:00]

"standards of verifiability, standards of transparency, standards of factuality"

Mr. Winer's response was laughable - if he cannot guarantee verifiability, transparency, and factuality himself, why should he be involved in establishing such standards?

I look forward to your continued balanced analyses.

:) nmw

Posted by: Norbert Mayer-Wittmann at March 26, 2009 4:06 AM | Permalink

It's not about What Content to Charge For, but HOW. Here's my proposal for a "User-Centric Online Revenue Model" (pat. pend.):

The site owner (Publisher) establishes a base price or value, say $4.99 per month, for unrestricted use of the site or service.

The user arrives at the website and views the homepage. At that point, or at a later point designated by the Publisher, the user is asked to log in or register to proceed.

To register with the site, the user must provide a username, password and email address. An email is then sent to the user’s email address to confirm the signup.

When the user returns to the site and logs in, he is presented with a box or page that asks him to choose how he will pay for or support the site content and/or services.

The choices presented include (but are not limited to):

a.) Straight subscription (in this example, $4.99 per month)
b.) Pay-per-view of articles, video or other content (with a maximum of $4.99 per month)
c.) Voluntary donation (with a minimum of $4.99 per month)
d.) Ad viewing (where the ad revenue yields a minimum of $4.99 per month)
e.) Affiliate or commission sales, through the use of embedded modules, coupon codes or other methods (totaling a minimum of $4.99 per month)
f.) Contribution of content or services (valued at $4.99 per month)
g.) Any combination of the above, with the mix or proportion adjusted by the user, to achieve the minimum payment of $4.99 per month.

Once the user has selected his preferred payment/support method, the system keeps track of his usage and serves the content in the appropriate way. Each time the user visits the site and logs in, the site recognizes him and displays the progress of payment, and prompts the user if necessary (e.g., “please donate $2 more by such-and-such a date”).

The payment system can be revised by the user at any time so long as it meets the price or value requirement (i.e., the user must ultimately generate $4.99 per month). For those methods that require direct payment, a secure credit-card or PayPal transaction will be executed.

If the user does not meet the minimum payment agreed to within the specified time, he will no longer have access to the site until the balance is paid.

Posted by: Allan Hoving at March 26, 2009 9:07 AM | Permalink

The one thing I see as a far outsider, well two things actually, is first that because they were monopolies newspapers were never the real watchdog of Democracy as much as another "Pig at the Trough" with their own power base, that balanced the other powers occasionally if they got out of hand, but were mostly complicit in that power, and mostly at least under pressure at the least from big advertisers, if not actually in pocket.

The second and perhaps more important thing I see is that all of Shirky's insights are also true in the much wider context. The printing press brought the Reformation but it also brought trade and innovation, and with that eventually "cheap" printing presses.

Once any person could print something that reached a critical mass audience, there was no King whose head was safe.

Those Publishers and Traders now consolidated power and became the new Kings, not just like the old, but just as fat and happy. And then along came Radio, and again there was cheap communication, and again the new "kings" were almost dethroned, but saved themselves at the last minute with "licenses" that made Radio, and later Television expensive and monopolistic.

Now along comes the Internet, and again anyone can own the new "Press" and again there is no restriction of content capable of reaching a critical mass.

The first reaction of power is GWB and a massive propaganda campaign, particularly juiced with Fear. This has been a part of the program that worked before as Communists were the boogymen and at first that worked, (the Internet was not yet at critical mass) but facts broke the propaganda model and GWB went down in flames.

Now we have a new battleground, some have never gotten it and their increasingly shrill pronouncements have left them looking as barking mad as they claim for everyone else.

But there are others who would use subversion where brutality did not work, if not to stop the now strongly running tide, then at least to turn it and protect the most potent parts of power, that they can retain their kingship as they did in the 1940's.

That battle is not over but it will not be an easy victory for either side.

Posted by: FreeDem [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 26, 2009 10:51 AM | Permalink

Professor Rosen,

Add another skeptic to the list.

I'm a former newspaper editor and reporter who embraces the digital age with enthusiasm. Until it comes to this idea of everyman and everywoman pounding the beat in all directions, clamoring for their story to be told -- or aggregated -- this instant. That's not news but a media of mass fragmentation incoherent in all its cogerencies!

I share my dime's worth on my blog, with particular reference to Steven Johnson's "old-growth" canopy.

The Future of Newspapers(1): Seeing the Wood for the Trees in Steven Johnson's "Old-Growth"

Posted by: Errol Lincoln Uys at March 26, 2009 11:14 AM | Permalink

Prof. Rosen,
As they say on talk radio, long-time reader, first-time commenter. Thanks so much for your great work. I'm also a long-time (former) journalist now with a nonprofit and see lots of potential for journalism there. But I am also amazed that in all these discussions about how to pay for the journalism (good and bad) that a century of monopoly and near-monopoly newspapers has created (thanks to a unique, lucky and dying set of printing-advertising-transportation circumstances), no one has pointed out one key fact: I pay about $100 a year for a newspaper subscription, and around $400 a year for the privilege of reading a few newspapers and blogs for free on the Internets. It is a rule of thumb in the newspaper business that the cost of a subscription is only about enough to pay for printing and distribution. On the Web, those costs are vastly reduced--but distribution is the only thing we're paying for, and we're paying more, at that. As a result, the ISPs are able to make huge amounts of money on the backs of free content. Why shouldn't they be paying the content providers who make their services so attractive? Given the advanced (and advancing) state of data collected about Web users, how hard would it be to either set a fixed rate or calculate a rate for them to pay back to content providers (even bloggers!) based on usage to pay for maintaining the Baghdad bureau or sending someone to a City Council meeting? (I remember reading a Brookings posting suggesting this a while back, but now can't find it.) Maybe it raises ISP costs by $5 a month. Or $10. Maybe nothing. I don't know. But I'm baffled why micropayments, not payments from ISPs to content providers, have become the central part of the discussion. How have the giant telecoms managed to keep themselves out of this conversation? Maybe there's an obvious reason this isn't being considered, but I can't think of it.

Posted by: Richard Hart at March 26, 2009 12:39 PM | Permalink

Here's a female perspective. I'm a former editor-in-chief of a weekly newspaper, and of a couple of websites, so I have feet in both worlds. I've also written extensively about entrepreneurialism, so I have an understanding of the business models. I wrote this on my blog recently about what we actually stand to lose:

[While I agree with some complaints that] *personal* objectivity is a figment, I don’t think that journalistic objectivity is really about personal opinions. The objectivity that matters in journalism lies in the separation of business interests from editorial interests. Newspapers, and many magazines, have a firewall that separates the two: the editor and the sales director, and the reporters and the ad salespeople, are treated as church and state. As an editor, I once had a junior ad salesman approach me about assigning a review of a restaurant he was hoping to land as a client. Although I handled it quietly, that could have been a firing offense on the level of plagiarism at most newspapers. And that was on the “soft” side of the paper, not in the newsroom proper.

What we lose when the institution of professional journalism goes away is a social construct that gives us a class of people whose job it is to focus solely on reporting the news without having to worry about what they say impacting their livelihood. They can offend advertisers and politicians with aplomb, and live to publish another day. They are also freed to build the kind of trust I mentioned before: getting to know people in sensitive positions with the backing of this structure that respects the integrity and privacy of the journalistic process, so that when the hurricane strikes, they can get the inside story.

This is hard to do without newspapers. I know of very few freelance journalists who have built a career covering hard news. Breaking news happens too fast to go through the process of selling an article. And most of the day-to-day news of government is impossible to cover as a freelancer simply because no one but a newspaper is going to pay you to cover the city council day in and day out so that when something does happen you have the expertise and contacts to report it.

Now, I am not saying that newspapers as we know them shouldn’t die. Maybe the reporters of the future will be more like hackers than reporters, mapping streams of meaning through the rivers of data as they flow. Maybe they’ll be like Chloe on 24, able to do just about anything from data mining to hacking into the president’s blackberry from a computer terminal. And maybe the personal relationships won’t matter as much. But I still wonder who will pay for this activity, and what their relationship will be to the people doing it.

Posted by: Hillary Johnson at March 26, 2009 1:30 PM | Permalink

I thought this thought from Lippman almost 90 years ago ...

This insistent and ancient belief that truth is not earned, but inspired, revealed, supplied gratis, comes out very plainly in our economic prejudices as readers of newspapers. We expect the newspaper to serve us with truth however unprofitable the truth may be. For this difficult and often dangerous service, which we recognize as fundamental, we expected to pay until recently the smallest coin turned out by the mint.
ties together nicely David Eaves' exposure model alternatives and Clay Shirky's
It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.

Posted by: Tim at March 26, 2009 7:30 PM | Permalink

Yeesh. That juvenile Morford piece shouldn't have been included unless you were trying to slip in a point about the flimsiness of existing media's claims to erudition relative to the internet.

Everyone else: talking about the evolution of the news. Morford: ad hominems and snark.

Posted by: Brian @ MGoBlog at March 26, 2009 7:35 PM | Permalink

Excellent round up, Jay.

RE: the gender imbalance of essay authors you noted. Seems to me that this reflects a larger trend in the blogging world--at least in the media (and probably political) sphere.

Posted by: Keith Kloor at March 27, 2009 1:04 AM | Permalink

Bravos, Jay. Very well done. Having invested years of my life in broadcast news (living the dogma "If your mother says she loves you, check it out") please allow me to commend you on your fair capture of the moment. This is no small achievement since the issue, as a practical matter, invites prejudice, invective. My sense is we have three big moving parts here. One, the Journalism deserving of that capital J provided its important, storied role in our republic. The Fourth Estate. Two, the business of journalism (i.e.,how do we pay for the enterprise or activity that produces that capital J stuff). Third, the needs, if not the rights, of the people, the citizens, too often expressed by their reading, involved minority. Therein the Gordian Knot. We are advantaged by your serious study and sharing. Thank you.

P.S. Keep up the good work with Dave. Enjoyed SL#1-3.

Posted by: Dave Martin at March 27, 2009 1:11 AM | Permalink

RE: Capital J

I don't believe in it.

Capital B loggers are also calling it into question.

See also a post I wrote back in January:

:) nmw

Posted by: Norbert Mayer-Wittmann at March 27, 2009 8:01 AM | Permalink

Via Tom Watson, Robert Stein:

For journalism, the goal has never been cosmic verities but everyday truth

What a marvelous aphorism. I think it sums up perfectly a point mourning reporters are trying to get across-- who's going to do the scutwork of factfinding in this marvelous new media utopia of theorists, ideologues and amateur pundits?

It's an important question, but as a news "consumer" I find the attitude expressed in Stein's beautiful apothegm frustrating, akin to Jay Rosen's "View from Nowhere." I don't find quests for cosmic verities and for everyday truths incompatible. Neither did I.F. Stone. I don't think Stein does either, or he wouldn't have named his blog "Connecting.the.dots."

It's the cosmic verities that feed my appetite for everyday truths. The obvious rebuttal is that this is rationalizing a tendency to seek evidence confirming my predispositions. I can only plead guilty with the qualification that verities, or at least most people's perception thereof, are not immutable and their examination is an unending process.

I've developed a nasty habit of supplanting newspaper reading with blog reading because I found the latter maddeningly and unbearably sterile (and yes, the former largely parasitizes the latter for its fodder). Devoid, not just of passion but of context, of significance, of meaning.

I don't discount the defenses of the "traditional model." And I don't doubt we're losing something precious, or that blogs etc. risk becoming [even more] detached from everyday truth in the wake of that model's decimation. But it was that model's refusal join the futile chase after Verities that led this sheep astray.

Posted by: Andy Vance at March 27, 2009 1:56 PM | Permalink

The business model of newspapers was: gather the attention of readers by publishing interesting data; sort that attention into packets of common interests; and sell the packets to businesses looking for customers. The news, the content, was always a loss leader, not a source of income. This is why charging for content is futile -- nobody paid for the news before, and they aren't going to do it now.

Please note that the business model of search engines is exactly the same as that of newspapers; the difference is, search engines can sort attention far more precisely than a newspaper could possibly manage. That might suggest search engines would be willing to subsidize the news. But how many journalists are prepared to have their incomes depend on the judgment of Google's PageRank algorithm? And why would Google accept any other arrangement?

Posted by: Michael Brazier at March 27, 2009 10:52 PM | Permalink

Here's some news on the future-of-news front. Please note the initial funding for the venture will be $1.75 million. The partners plan to raise more. Press release follows. See also my new post, Introducing the new Huffington Post Investigative Fund (And My Own Role in It) with links to other material.



Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University School of Journalism
To Collaborate with Fund By Involving Students in Investigative Projects

(New York, NY) -- March 29, 2009 -- The Huffington Post announced today that it is launching a new initiative to produce a wide range of investigative journalism -- The Huffington Post Investigative Fund. It is being funded by The Huffington Post and The Atlantic Philanthropies, and will be headed by Nick Penniman, founder of The American News Project, which will be folded into the Investigative Fund.

“The importance of investigative journalism cannot be overstated -- especially during our tumultuous times -- and we are delighted to be creating an initiative whose goal is to produce stories that will have a real impact both nationally and locally,” said Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post. “Everyone who recognizes the role good journalism plays in our democracy is looking for ways to preserve it during this time of great transition for the media. The Huffington Post Investigative Fund is one of the ways we are addressing that need, while also providing work and a platform for seasoned journalists downsized by major media outlets. We are grateful to the American News Project and The Atlantic Philanthropies for their generous contributions, and intend to engage with other donors as we continue to expand the Fund.”

Kenneth Lerer, co-founder and chairman of The Huffington Post, said, “There is no more critical reporting than investigative journalism. This nonprofit investigative journalism venture is a very important and logical next step for The Huffington Post. Our mission will be to produce and distribute distinguished, independent journalism made widely-available to all news outlets. We are proud to be working with our prestigious partners and look forward to expanding and building upon this venture with other investigative news organizations from around the country, and the world.”

The Huffington Post Investigative Fund, headquartered in Washington, DC, will produce a broad range of investigative journalism created by both staff reporters and freelance writers, with a focus on working with the many experienced reporters and writers impacted by the economic contraction. The pieces will range from long-form investigations to short breaking news stories and will be presented in a variety of media -- including text, audio and video -- and will be free for any media outlet to publish simultaneously. The Huffington Post Investigative Fund will have an initial budget of $1.75 million.

Nick Penniman, Executive Director of the Huffington Post Investigative Fund, said: “I’m looking forward to producing journalism that can have an impact, and that incorporates the best of traditional journalism and the tools of new media and distributed journalism.”

Jay Rosen, associate professor of journalism at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, will serve as a senior advisor to the project. Rosen, as a director of NewAssignment.Net, his research project at NYU, previously collaborated with The Huffington Post on OffTheBus -- an experiment in citizen journalism that drew 12,000 contributors and gained widespread media attention for its coverage of the 2008 campaign.

Said Rosen: "In addition to collaborating on OffTheBus, I've been writing for years about this possibility – distributed reporting projects that efficiently coordinate the efforts of volunteers, data-combing efforts that are open source, as well as teams of pros and amateurs working together -- and I think The Huffington Post Investigative Fund is the next logical step."

By leveraging The Huffington Post’s growing audience, along with the growing audience of other online news outlets, the Huffington Post Investigative Fund will also provide a higher profile for the work of existing investigative reporting outfits with which it will partner, including Spot.US, The Center for Public Integrity, The Institute for Justice and Journalism, The Center for Investigative Reporting, and The European Fund for Investigative Journalism.

Additionally, the Huffington Post Investigative Fund will work closely with Eyes & Ears, HuffPost’s citizen journalism project, harnessing the power of HuffPost’s community of engaged readers to yield research, insights, and information.

Sheila Coronel, Director of the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at the Columbia University’s Journalism School, who has consulted with The Huffington Post Investigative Fund, said, “This is an exciting development and we look forward to having our students work on investigative projects with this new venture. Now more than ever, we need strong collaboration and funding for journalism that holds individuals and institutions accountable.”

About The Huffington Post: The Huffington Post ( is a leading news and opinion site which in three and a half years has become an influential media brand--The Internet Newspaper." The site offers coverage of politics, media, business, entertainment, living, style, green, world and comedy, and is a top destination for news, blogs and original content. In 2008, the site launched its first local version, HuffPost Chicago. The Huffington Post ("HuffPost") has 20 million unique users each month and is the most-linked-to blog on the Internet, per Technorati. HuffPost has an active community, with over one million comments made on the site each month. The Huffington Post has over 3,000 influential bloggers -- from politicians and celebrities to academics and policy experts -- who contribute in real-time on a wide-range of topics making news today. Among those who have blogged on HuffPost are Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Larry David, Nora Ephron, Madeleine Albright, Robert Redford, Neil Young, Rahm Emanuel, Albert Brooks, Mia Farrow, Russ Feingold, Al Franken, Ari Emanuel, Gary Hart, Edward Kennedy, Harry Shearer, John Kerry, Bill Maher, Nancy Pelosi, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ryan Reynolds, Craig Newmark, and Alec Baldwin. A comprehensive list of the contributors to The Huffington Post can be found in its blogger index.

About The Atlantic Philanthropies: The Atlantic Philanthropies are dedicated to bringing about lasting changes in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people. Atlantic focuses on four critical social problems: Ageing, Children & Youth, Population Health, and Reconciliation & Human Rights. Programmes funded by Atlantic operate in Australia, Bermuda, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, South Africa, the United States and Viet Nam. To learn more, please visit:

About American News Project: Created in the spring of 2008, the American News Project is dedicated to creating original, independent video journalism for the Web. Its more than 150 video reports have received millions of views on thousands of websites throughout the world. Some have been rebroadcast on traditional television networks, and dozens more on satellite networks. For its work, it has received multiple Telly awards and is currently in the running for a Webby. Its seven producer-reporters, a mix of broadcast journalists and documentary filmmakers, have forged editorial partnerships with operations such as The Huffington Post and the McClatchy newspaper company, and have covered a variety of topics, from troop malfeasance in Iraq, to the lack of transparency and accountability in the financial bailout, to the think tanks and lobbyists that hold sway over major policy decisions. ANP is a nonprofit operation, headquartered in Washington, D.C.

About The Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia’s Journalism School: The Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia’s Journalism School administers an exclusive track for master’s students who want to specialize in investigative journalism. It oversees the Stabile Investigative Project Fund, which supports the most important and promising reporting by the Center’s students. Since 2007, the Center’s student projects have come out in The New York Times, National Public Radio, Mother Jones, and other publications. For more information:

Mario Ruiz
VP, Media Relations

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 29, 2009 8:30 PM | Permalink

From the Intro