Who’s trying to save journalism this week

Following the News 2.0 Forum a couple of weeks ago and my (awesome) vacation, it suddenly seems like everyone is talking about the “future of journalism” right now, particularly when it comes to how to fund it.

Under the familiar topic of paid online news, the Guardian reported this week on a poll that found web users prefer subscriptions to micropayments. Of course, that’s all entirely based on the premise that they’d have to be paying for news in the first place, as there was no option for “I will do what I can to not pay anything”.

Anyway, the finding isn’t entirely surprising. Most people don’t understand micropayments in the first place and, frankly, it makes sense to those who may be more familiar with print subscriptions to buy all-access for one fee than buying content one piece at a time.

Meanwhile, back in the US, Jack Shafer at Slate made the case as to why Obama should stay out of the fight to save American newspapers. The real issue at hand is a bill from Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin that would allow newspapers to reorganize themselves as non-profits.

The reasons this could be a very bad idea are many. For starters, it seeks to only help newspapers and not any other media. Two, it doesn’t actually fix the primary problem, anyway. If newspapers were to suddenly become non-profits, it wouldn’t change the fact that they lose money. And three, it seeks to preserve a status quo in an industry that needs to be anything but.

A far better solution (IMHO) gets a spotlight from David Westphal at the Online Journalism Review: Creating revenue by selling our best skills as journalists.  Talk surfaced at a recent IRE conference about the prospect of selling journalists’ research skills on a “for hire” basis. This sort of thing has been done for years by the Economist and a few operations (like GlobalPost) have begun trying it out as well.

It’s a simple idea that could really have some legs if done correctly. It would take one of the most innate and specialized skills of investigative journalists – researching and reporting – and sell it to clients who want deep background on, say, a local company, an incident or a piece of legislation.  We all know that anyone can write a story these days, but it takes a certain kind of skill set to tenaciously chase a story in the way an investigative reporter might – so why not market that?

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