Could Co-operatives Save Newspapers -- And Investigative Journalism?
from the how-about-it-Rupert? dept
A couple of weeks ago, we reported that Rupert Murdoch's paywall at the London Times isn't looking like a huge success. That won't come as a surprise to Techdirt readers, but does raise the question: if newspapers can't use paywalls alongside ads to fund journalists, what can they turn to? Here's a revolutionary idea: why not let the people who know and care most about the title -- the readers -- get more closely involved? That's precisely what the Berlin-based newspaper Die Tageszeitung, affectionately known as "Taz", has done. Here's the Guardian's description of how it came about:
For years, Taz -- circulation 60,000 -- was funded by state handouts. But with the fall of the [Berlin] Wall in 1989 came a drop in subsidy -- and by 1992, the paper faced bankruptcy. Enter the Genossenschaft, or co-operative: a group of concerned readers who valued the paper's independence, or its ability, as one has it, "to put its finger into the wounds of our economic system". The group invested its savings in the paper, and the paper was itself saved.
That bold move seems to have worked: today, the co-operative has a healthy 11 million euros (about $14 million) in the bank. It's owned by 12,000 readers, each of whom pays a minimum of 500 euros (about $650) to have an equal say in setting overall policy, discussed at the annual general meeting. Interestingly, that egalitarianism is also to be found in the newsroom:
"You're a very free journalist here," says deputy editor Reiner Metzger. Reporters are free to follow their own hobbyhorses, which he says makes life tough as an editor. "People argue very hard. We don't have a hierarchical structure where someone can say: shut up now." Salaries are pretty flat, too. Metzger is paid only [$650] more than the most junior reporter -- though he gets additional support for his children.
It's a fascinating approach, one that also seems to address the concern that in the age of the Internet, hard-hitting investigative journalism is a luxury that can no longer be afforded. Sadly, it seems unlikely that Rupert Murdoch would be willing to take a pay cut to around junior reporter levels to try it out for the Times.