I think everyone now agrees that while newspapers in their current form are in strife, nobody wants quality journalism to disappear.
But no-one knows how to fund it.
I’ve got three ideas and in this post I want to deal with two.
1. Industries should fund journalism directly
I cover a couple of obscure industries that have little dedicated media and only a very small number of writers with any appreciation of the technical nuances of the fields concerned. I’d argue (in a self-interested way, of course) that these industries are the poorer for their lack of a full-time focus on their activities, services and products. These industries also lack the vibrant hub that a good publication creates. They also miss out on the chance to reach prospects and customers through a medium they trust, namely journalism.
So I can imagine that farsighted industry associations could start to talk to publishers about subsidising a journalist’s wages, in order to ensure there is a resource dedicated to covering their industry. An Association’s investment in a journo could benefit its members by creating a virtuous circle in which the dedicated writer means a publication becomes more attractive to readers and therefore more useful as a marketing vehicle.
Is this feasible? I do some work with an industry association that could probably not afford to do this. But not by a vast distance. (Obviously this is my personal opinion and in no way reflects the position of the association, in case anyone knows the association concerned)
2. License PRs to access journalists
I think the way PR relies on journalists, but does not pay for them, is in many way analogous to publishers’ complaints about the way search engines monetise their content without any financial contribution.
I recognise that PR probably lowers the cost of operating a publishing house by providing content and/or making it easier to access (albeit with the content groomed for commercial intent, rather than reader value). But let’s face it: PRs are stuffed without influencers to influence!
I can imagine publishers licensing access to their journos to PRs that have paid for the privilege. Such a scheme could be run through a PR industry association and would involve a sliding payment scale, so as not to disadvantage small PR shops. But unless a PR had paid their dues, a publisher’s journos would not take their calls. Blocking their email would be simple.
I imagine PRs would hate this regime. Everyone hates it when new costs arrive in their industry.
But seeing as the way we fund journalism now is borked, costs are going to land somewhere. And right now, PR cannot exist with media but does not fund it at all. Maybe that needs to change to help journalism survive.
These ideas are both thought experiments and have obvious problems in terms of how this kind of funding impacts’ media independence and the likelihood of fearlessly critical coverage. They both also devolve to industry paying for coverage, either through associations or via. increased PR bills. I suspect that, over time, industry will miss having a media to read about itself in. Or maybe not – which is a whole other kettle of fish and something I will blog about with my third funding idea soon.