Update : If newspapers die "hyperlocal websites" are positioned to take their place to report neighborhood news according to this NY Times article. New ways of underwriting journalism are being explored as traditional mass circulation print journalism contracts. Some contend it’s disappearing. Spot.us is a non-profit, member supported form of community journalism.
Sara Perez writes and provides a video about Spot.us saying the future of journalism will be radically different. However, as I assess this model I note it has produced 19 stories since its inception in November. These are membership assigned stories. Members determine content by anteing up funds for a reporter to research and write.
That’s not a huge number compared to the coverage of a daily newspaper or a major news website. The stories concentrate on local issues. That’s a good thing, but it leaves open the concern about how international coverage will be sustained.
As for other funding models, David Weir comments on cuts at both NPR and Newsweek which have different funding sources.
It used to be difficult to understand why something happening in Somalia should be important to people in Nashville or Omaha. The distance was so great and the Horn of Africa seemed inconsequential. At least, I heard that from time to time. (I’ve never agreed with that thought. I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t interested in global news, even in my youth.)
We know differently now. Caught in a global financial crisis, we’re beginning to understand that our lives are interrelated in complex, often invisible ways. The world has shrunk. What happens on the other side of the globe can affect us at the speed of the Internet.
At the same time newspapers are cutting global reporting and television, having never been really strong at it, covers the hot spots and almost never gets beyond that style. This raises the question of how global news will be collected and reported.
It will be mostly digital. In fact, it’s already digital. Every website potentially serves a global audience. Certainly blogs have filled in a gap in some parts of the world and social networking has been used to inform and mobilize people but it’s not a primary source of content. Whether magazines can make it is up for grabs.
So how will those who want global news get it after newspapers as we know them die?
David Weir has been writing about the decline of traditional print journalism and the business models of successful alternative journals. He also points readers to Globalpost.com which seeks to become an alternative global news source.
A statement on that site explains it’s a for profit venture depending on advertising, syndication and Passport memberships which are subscriptions to premium content and services with some interactivity.
It’s a harbinger of what’s to come, the testing of new business models through different forms of financing including subscriptions, grants and advertising. What’s still unclear to me, and a lot of others, is how to reach the critical mass necessary to be sustainable. If it doesn’t exist today how will it be attracted in the future? And if not critical mass, then what?
In an age of fragmentation and specialization we have to scramble because we’re experienced with a mass market model that began in the 1900s and shaped our economics for more than a century. And that has come crashing down.
The successful alternative models Weir points to are all local. They are community newspapers augmented by effective websites, however, some comments on his posts say even these have had advertising revenue siphoned away by Craigslist.
Magazines that are surviving do so by reaching niche markets. Is global news a niche market? Will we move to a completely different form of information beyond civic and political such as the sharing of best practices by those with particular interests. That’s the wiki model of interactive sharing in knowledge communities. I’ve seen it applied globally around community radio and literacy with some success but it’s functional information not interpretive.
These are only two of many questions yet to be answered. In a world that desperately needs greater understanding I hope we find a way to sustain the collection and distribution of quality reporting and analysis. We need it today more than ever.