The days since the Washington Post was sold to Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, has made for some interesting reading. As usual, the internet is not short on opinions, and the sale of such an important, albeit diminishing, insitution has certainly generated it's fair share. I have read rather hysterical accounts of how this is a turning point in serious journalism, and it is certainly all up from here. How Bezos, already a man willing to open his cheque book to gain political clout, has merely done a Rupert Murdoch. And even claims that Bezos will ruin The Post by copying the business model that has worked so well for Amazon, but seen the ruin of many old-school media stalwarts; an emphasis on high volume and low costs. But I have repeatedly come back to a brilliant article by James Fallows in The Atlantic, and especially this paragraph:
For years anyone thinking about the future of news has realized that, completely on its own, what we consider “serious” journalism has never been a viable business. Foreign reportage, serious investigative or government-accountability coverage — functions like these have always been, in economic terms, parasites that need to ride along on some profitable host body. In the old days, that was the fat, bundled newspaper, which provided a range of information to an audience with no technological alternative. We're in the un-bundled era now, and serious journalism has been looking for new host bodies — much as higher education, museums, the fine arts, etc have also needed support beyond what the flat-out market would provide.
For the past couple of years, really ever since I realised my dream career, journalism, is not a yellow brick road but a sinking ship, I have wondered what the future will bring. I am also part of Gen Y. The newspaper model has never made sense to me. When I did read physical newspapers I stopped at the first trashcan I could find to alleviate myself of the bulky “classifieds” and pull-out sections (that stuff is not only online, but better online). Now I read news online, and the business model makes less and less sense. The Internet has brought an abundance of free news from all over the world, and ad-blocking scripts have made it easier to deny much needed revenue to content producers. There is still a market for quality journalism, but maybe no longer one subsidised by advertising.
It seems to me that the future funding of journalism is the same as that of any art: sponsorship. Relatively big organisations like The Nation, ProPublica and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, are already operating on this model. And I have written previously about the successful reader funded blogs run by Professor Juan Cole and Andrew Sullivan. But large scale investigative journalism and embedded foreign reporting is another scale entirely, and this is where the likes of Bezos may come in. History is full of patrons of the arts, will we now see some patrons of journalism?