New model journalism will exploit rather than resent the freedoms of the net…

One of the liveliest discussions at Picamp on Tuesday was the problem of how you maintain scrutiny of politics at a time of falling ad revenues are disincentivising commercial media organisations from strong political and current affairs reporting… Matt Cooper in the Irish Examiner (echoing Rupert Murdoch’s recent remarks) reckons that ‘end users’ will have to pay, if they want good quality news. Matt quotes Robert Thomson, managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, who may be in the process of setting off a big political battle with Google, the pioneering billionaires of net ad revenue, and putative architect of big newspapers’ downfall:

“There is a collective consciousness among content creators that they are bearing the costs and that others are reaping some of the revenues,” he said recently. “Inevitably that profound contradiction will be a catalyst for action and the moment is nigh. There is no doubt certain websites are best described as parasites or tech tapeworms in the intestines of the internet.”

That sounds to me like the declaration of corporate ‘thumb war’… In truth, Murdoch has been slow to come to this party… Waiting until it became a threat to bottom line rather than his topline figures may be what’s driving to take this aggressive stance… I am not sure how you put the genii back inside, especially when the bottle has been uncorked for so long…

Talking to James Harkin, the Belfast born author of Cyburbia: The Dangerous Idea That’s Changing How We Live and Who We are recently, it became obvious to me that the truth neither lies with the defenders of old world models of journalism nor the small platoons of citizen journalism. Interestingly, in a debate in last month’s copy of Prospect blog sceptic Paul Starr put the imperative facing political journalism better than I have seen for a while:

When I spoke of newspapers retrenching, and the inability of online news to fill the gap, I was referring to coverage of state government in New Jersey. It happens to be true, and it’s also true of government in other states as well. Nothing that you have said addresses this decline in reporting and its implications for political accountability – and your site is certainly no solution – you can’t aggregate stories that aren’t being written. Solving that problem is going to demand new investments in journalism by non profit organisations. new business models that finance reporting, and new public policies that allow news organisations to campture more of the revenue from the public good they produce.

As I argued in a presentation to the Reuters Institute last November, bloggers are opportunists… And, I would argue, that some of us do an order of work that the conventional model of journalism no longer funds… The let’s shut down the ‘net brigade may be angry but they are looking in the wrong direction…

In high finance, market information specialists like Breaking Views, a breakway from the Lex Column, do quite nicely (or nichely)… On a subscriber base of 15,000, and columns syndicated to a series of influential newspapers and magazines it funds 22 columnists and correspondents, and provides the kind of depth coverage that most conventional papers for which there is demand, but the conventional model of journalism cannot provide… Like a good blog would, they get on a story early, ride it through to the peak and work it thoroughly through the after effects…

As editorial direction in traditional papers hauls people off the story to conserve meagre resources, Breaking Views continues with the kind of follow through that is essential for anyone with a deep interest in the subject… They fill a need, and since the market will bear it, they can charge accordingly… In other less profitable market areas, alternative models may have to be developed and adopted…

But almost everything else in this equation is a distraction; not least the bloggers vs journos dilemma (the relationship is often a great deal more harmonious than either party likes to admit)… Unfunded blogs cannot, and probably have little interest in, doing classic journalism; but that does not mean there is no viable model that can create chargeable value that exploits (rather than is terrified by) the freer marketplace of the internet…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty