Jan Schaffer- J-Lab: rapporteur for the Public Support group.
Possibilities for public support of news media are clustering in some key areas – foundation grants, member donations, targeted micro-payments, and government support.
Our group discussed how some forms of public support can threaten a news operation’s independence, either by funding coverage of certain topics to a degree that can skew the overall news agenda, or by subjecting the newsroom to corporate or political influence.
By far, the Holy Grail for public support is to raise an endowment big enough to generate the annual revenue needed to run a news initiative, be it a newsroom or a Pro Publica project. This liberates news projects from continual fundraising and lets them concentrate on the journalism.
NPR-like drives for donor support have sustained public radio, but can contribute to tensions between the national programmers and local affiliate.
Several experiments are just now underway that involve soliciting micro payments from individuals. Len Witt’s Representative Journalism project asks people to support a reporter. David Cohn’s Spot.us project asks people to fund a particular story. And Harvard’s Berkman Center has developed software, Vendor Relationship Management (VRM), that aims to engage vendors and customers in new ways.
Should government support the news media in a BBC-like model, possibly with an Internet tax? Such ideas met with cautions of recent influence peddling by executives the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Could the cost of producing news content be supported by those who aggregate it, much like the cable companies support CSPAN? Or could major universities like Harvard shelter news projects? Perhaps.
Should philanthropic foundations be catalysts for what news media ought to do, rather than simply funders of the status quo?
As important is the question of whether news organizations would be more successful attracting public support if they reframed their mission, less as an act of information, and more as an act of community building.
“Can you make the case that you are filing a need?” asked Jay Rosen.
Can you show that news media exist not just to cover community, but to build it as well?