Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Saving Journalism: Worth Another Read

As we think about the nonprofit model and its applications to journalism, it's worth taking a few minutes to go back and read Phil Meyer's 2004 CJR essay, Saving Journalism - if for no other reason, to measure progress and revisit areas where progress has stalled.

Meyer - professor emeritus at Chapel Hill and a man who has been 20 years ahead of his time for half a century - takes the first deep dive into examining the nonprofit model as a kind of Biosphere 2 for socially responsible journalism as the newspaper model collapses around it. The essay anticipates many of the questions we're now wrestling with. Among them: Would philanthropies exert undue influence over newsroom? (Answer: It couldn't be any more dangerous than what advertisers do now.)

Meyer also paints a dark picture of what has become the newspaper industry's reality. He writes:
I know of no newspaper companies that are doing this consciously, but the behavior of most points in this direction: smaller newshole, lighter staffing, and reduced community service, leading, of course, to fading readership, declining circulation, and lost advertising. Plot it on a graph, and it looks like a death spiral.

Meyer also reminds us that brighter days still are possible.

We should look for ways to keep the spirit and tradition of socially responsible journalism alive until it finds a home in some new media form whose nature we can only guess at today.

This essay is what got me interested in pursuing the nonprofit model several years ago as I anticipated the eventual evaporation of my former bureau, and reading it again reminds me that this is a trajectory worth following to its conclusion.

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