Tuesday, October 13, 2009

on the other hand: consider the non-profit

By now you have clearly heard of the plan to save journalism hatched by wealthy investor F. Warren Hellman, KQED-FM, San Francsico's NPR station, and UC Berkeley's journalism school. (If not, read about it in this piece by Richard Perez-Pena in The New York Times last month.)

Funded by a $5 million grant from Hellman, the project will combine the labors of the j. school interns and KQED-FM's staff to produce the kind of Bay Area news that has begun to disappear with the shrinking of the local daily newspapers.

Innovative, yes. Especially at a time when the news industry is desperate for solutions to keep it on life support. But still: Do we really want to turn investigative news-gathering over to interns? Or will their contributions be more like the stuff we read in the free weeklies that used to sit in our driveway for days? Does KQED-FM have the staff to adequately vet their stories and supervise their work? And what kind of credibility problems could arise when the whole project is funded by one donor. Will he keep his hands off?

In the words of one of my esteemed colleagues:
It's great to see people thinking of new ways to fund news
organizations, but I'm not sure this combination offers long-term
financial stability...a wealthy investor whose wealth fluctuates with
a troubled stock market, a cash-strapped public university, and an NPR
station that has had numerous funding problems over the years despite
being in one of the country's wealthiest areas. (See the stories on
KQED's financial problems related to its headquarters.) And while
corporate owners present all kinds of accountability issues, this
combination presents a whole different set of potential accountability
problems.
In a less serious vein, but kind of not, the SF Weekly posts this somewhat snarky list of how Hellman's approach is likely to save journalism. No.5 reads as follows:

• Bank on the fact that college interns and former journalists will do anything to look important

2 comments:

iamthewalrus said...

I'm sure you read this, but here is another look at what a journalist is doing to keep a job...Tom Sawyer Style

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/12/business/media/12communicator.html?em

barbara kelley said...

Mr. walrus --
and so i have. in fact. was going to post it later on. you saved me the work.
isn't that the deep dream of every journalist: to start a down home newspaper and immerse yourself in the real life of a community? all ideals (and no money.) the stuff of fantasy land -- and journalism movies. love it. or would, if i could only get rid of the tune fatigue:
"...I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together."