Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hey, Steve … Answer The Question!

Many thanks to Steve Coll and the New America Foundation, which has taken to heart the problem of faltering support for enterprise/investigative journalism. In the past two weeks, New America has hosted two thoughtful, well-attended forums on the topic.

The question posed in Washington last week was, Who pays for the news? And on Wednesday in San Francisco, it was, What comes after newspapers? The answers, in brief, were that 1) nobody wants to pay and 2) that nobody knows what’s next.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful – I thoroughly enjoyed the 3+ hour discussion in Washington – but I’m getting a little frustrated that we aren’t discussing some possible answers to the questions. I think we’re missing some opportunities.

Only toward the end of the Washington forum did somebody throw out the notion of the L3C – the low-profit limited liability corporation – and how it might or might not be a workable model for journalism. But only one of the panelists seemed at all familiar with it, and the conversation quickly turned other topics. I didn’t attend San Francisco, but from what I’ve read and watched, there was a similar lament about the demise of the newspaper model followed by little discussion of solutions. As Conor Gallagher reported:

"So, what's next?" (moderator and NPR media reporter David) Folkenflik asked at the opening of the lecture. After over an hour of stressing the importance of journalism surviving in some form, that question remains unanswered.

Not that anybody is expected to have the silver-bullet answer to the questions that have been so ably posed by New America. But we know what the problem is. And by “we,” I mean people who care and know enough to do something more than bemoan the loss of fading institutions. Steve Coll got it right: This is a time of great experimentation, as well as destruction. There are lots of ideas out there that need to be picked apart and examined as only journalists can. No time like the present.

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