Getting People To Pay For Investigative Reporting Directly

from the well,-there's-one-idea dept

When old school journalists complain about the supposed "threats" from companies like Craigslist and Google or things like blogging, one of the common refrains is: "but who will pay for investigative reporting." The idea is that these other services can replace the basic news facts, but it's tough to see how true investigative reporting will get funded. Yet, as with all markets in a state of flux, we've seen that if there's a real demand, new business models will come along to handle it -- and that seems to be exactly what is happening in the investigative reporting realm. The NY Times points out a few different experiments in other forms of funding investigative reporting, with the bulk of the story talking about getting interested parties to pay up front for an investigation. In other words, if there is a concerned group of folks worried about, say, dangerous chemicals leaking into the drinking water, it could put that story up, and if enough people contribute to the investigation, a reporter can get paid and do the investigation.

While there are some concerns that this would lead to biased journalism, there's nothing saying that the journalist's results have to support the initial worry. In fact, I would imagine that in cases where folks are worried about things like chemicals in the drinking water, they'd be much more relieved to find out that it's really nothing. Either way, this model fits exactly with the business models we've discussed in the past: getting people to pay for the creation of content. The creation of new content is a scarce good, and there may be some group of people for whom its worth paying for. In this case, the example fits the business model we describe for content after it's created as well, since the organization doing these investigative reports will then offer them to newspapers for free (so long as they don't want an exclusive right -- which would not be free). That's exactly how it should be: it costs money for the initial creation, but then the content is freed, where it adds much more value (and attracts more people to fund later stories). Who knows if this particular effort will work (execution is everything, after all), but the model is sound, and shows that despite gloomy whining from old school reporters, the new business models will show up.

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  1. identicon
    lilyleftthevalley, 28 Aug 2008 @ 1:32am

    Call me crazy...

    So if groups such as the religious right suddenly want to pay for an article investigating something that they know will be good for their cause(s), now they can essentially just use dollars to get whichever publication(s) to go out and report it? With all the fake reality we live in these days, there just seems far too many ways to exploit this process in a biased fashion.

    Yes, some folks might be relieved that the water is ok. But more may want to be able to sue their water supplier. Only practical application over time will tell, and by then it might be too late.

    And how much longer then, until the front page starts to be for sale as well? I know the story doesn't say anything about placement, but if journalism heads down this road, eventually the real estate is going to start fetching a price as well. And then we can all sit back and enjoy the front page wars between opposing groups like the intellignet design and the FSM folks. Forget news! We've already headed down the road of provocative entertainment and gossip rather than thought provoking dissemination of information. Need we go any further?

    If they're that desperate for funding, tell 'em to add a donate button, even giving them a choice as to whom to donate the money to anonymously: the sports section, a particular journalist, etc. That'd still be better in my mind.

    Otherwise this whole third party process just sounds like some people sitting in a room thinking "How can we make money doing something that really doesn't need to be done because it will cause more problems than it will solve?"

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