by Mike Masnick
Thu, Oct 7th 2010 7:30pm
Let me start off this post by saying that I'm a huge fan of what the Knight Foundation has done for journalism lately, especially with its grant program that has supported a bunch of cool startup ideas to try out new forms of journalism offerings. I've also been talking with some folks involved with the Knight Foundation about maybe helping with some of the programs they run and doing some mentoring (though, nothing is set yet). That said, I'm a bit perplexed by a recent report that the Foundation has agreed to fund a bunch of non-profits' usage of Steve Brill's paywall startup, Journalism Online. I'm not against experimenting, but I do worry that this will push some of these nonprofits towards a paywall solution that doesn't make sense. With the Knight Foundation paying the upfront fees ("It gets us guaranteed cash in the door," Brill explained), it may lead these startups to feel more compelled to make a bad business model decision by betting on a paywall, where other solutions make a lot more sense. I've spent a lot of time discussing why the economics of paywalls rarely work -- especially in the general news space, and I worry that by footing the bill, the Knight Foundation may push these startups into a decision that does more harm than good. There are lots of interesting and compelling business models out there, and I'm not sure the Knight Foundation should be picking one model that it thinks all of these startups should use.
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