Investigative journalism is getting small boosts of support from the Huffington Post and the lesser-known New England First Amendment Center, good news for a shrinking sector and another signal of the important role non-profits may play in rebuilding the costliest kinds of reporting.
The HuffPo announced Sunday that it is collaborating with Atlantic Philanthropies to create a $1.75 million fund to finance investigative reporting that will initially focus on the economy; the effort will employ 10 journalists. As we embark on a multi-trillion-dollar bailout of our financial system, we need as many skilled people probing the public and private sectors to follow the disbursement of funds as well as to track the policy issues involved.
Meanwhile, NEFAC announced that it would be sponsoring a free all-day conference at The Boston Globe for “professional and civic journalists and for those who work in related areas, such as non-profit employees who monitor government action.”
It will kick off with a session that examines how strong newsrooms are built around a lasting awareness of FOI issues and how access to public records serves as a driving force behind quality reporting.
Jay Rosen, new media guru at New York University, pratically crowed on Twitter: “I TOLD you bloggers vs journalists is over. Boston workshop on investigative journalism welcomes citizen journalists.”
In its news release, HuffPo notes that its “venture is reminiscent of ProPublica, a nonprofit independent newsroom funded by The Sandler Foundation and headed by Paul Steiger, former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal. ProPublica works with a $10 million budget.” In a recent speech at the Society of Silurians, Steiger told the journalists there that he expected investigative and overseas reporting to find funding from a combination of non-profit models — the ballet or NPR.
Huffington Post blogger Jeff Jarvis thinks the numbers will work:
I’ve been hoping to get the resources to preform an audit of the current resource allocation in journalism: Take a town, add up all the journalistic spending there (paper, TV, radio, magazine) and then see how much is spent on investigative reporting (I’ll wager it will be tiny; a fraction of a percent of the total) as well as the beat reporting that feeds it – and judge the value of the results.
When we see that number, I predict, it will be feasible to imagine support from foundations and the public (that is, in the NPR and Spot.US models) to pay for investigative journalism. Indeed, I’ll bet that we could multiply the amount spent on and the output of investigative reporting today. This is how to subsidize news. It’s happening now, as ProPublica stories run in The New York Times. That is a form of subsidy.
I also suspect, that something else will emerge that we can’t even imagine that will reshape journalism and its sponsorship. As Clay Shirky wrote on his blog:
We don’t know who the Aldus Manutius [printing innovator] of the current age is. It could be Craig Newmark [Craigslist founder], or Caterina Fake [Flickr founder]. It could be [NYT’s] Martin Nisenholtz, or [UK Guardian’s] Emily Bell. It could be some 19 year old kid few of us have heard of, working on something we won’t recognize as vital until a decade hence. Any experiment, though, designed to provide new models for journalism is going to be an improvement over hiding from the real, especially in a year when, for many papers, the unthinkable future is already in the past.
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