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Funding Journalism in the Digital Age

Business Models, Strategies, Issues and Trends

Jeff Kaye and Stephen Quinn

The news media play a vital role in keeping the public informed and maintaining democratic processes. But that essential function has come under threat as emerging technologies and changing social trends, sped up by global economic turmoil, have disrupted traditional business models and practices, creating a financial crisis. Quality journalism is expensive to produce – so how will it survive as current sources of revenue shrink? Funding Journalism in the Digital Age not only explores the current challenges, but also provides a comprehensive look at business models and strategies that could sustain the news industry as it makes the transition from print and broadcast distribution to primarily digital platforms. The authors bring widespread international journalism experience to provide a global perspective on how news organizations are evolving, investigating innovative commercial projects in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Norway, South Korea, Singapore and elsewhere.
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4 Sponsorship and philanthropy



One method of funding journalism that is drawing increased attention is the sponsorship model. Traditionally advertising has subsidized newsgathering. With sponsorship the idea is to transfer the subsidy to wealthy individuals and foundations. These donors want to see quality journalism survive, and are willing to fund it. The chapter focuses on the example of ProPublica, which received a subsidy of $10 million a year for at least three years from mid-2008. It also looks at a range of smaller operations. ProPublica employs a relatively small number of journalists, even if they are the largest single grouping of investigative reporters in the US. The key issue is whether the small-scale funding examples that have arisen in recent years can be extrapolated to major newspapers.

In sixteenth-century Europe business people employed letter-writers in cities where those business people traded but did not live. The letters carried the same news that a trader or merchant would need today: prices, economic conditions and news of disasters, along with rumors of war and other forms of gossip. The letters were valuable because they were current, reliable, relevant to decision-makers’ needs, and because they were not widely circulated. Those letter-writers were well paid and respected. Quality and accuracy were vital, along with an ability to interpret.

Professor Jay Rosen of New York University noted in his PressThink blog that this business model exists today in the form of expensive specialty newsletters. But only big firms and rich people can...

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