Friday, June 19, 2009

Scaling Up: Chuck Lewis and WIRE

For those looking to the future of philanthropy and journalism, Chuck Lewis offers an intriguing guidepost - and a full-blown hybrid business model - in a recent Columbia Journalism Review article entitled "A Social Network Solution."

Lewis, founder of the Center for Public Integrity and the Investigative Reporting Workshop, writes the article from the point of view CJR calls "voices from an imagined future," looking back on current events from 2014. It's an artifice for sure, but it does help set the imagination free from the bleak reality of the news business today.

In the article, Lewis notes the emergence in 2008 of "dozens of new nonprofit muckraking organizations at the local, state, and national level." But the missing elements, he says, were "a global, online, social-utility platform" and "a new financial support system to make that possible."

Lewis, a prolific fundraiser, then reveals that he has big plans for later this year. He writes:

With all of this in mind, in late 2009, I began World Investigative Reporting Enterprises (WIRE), a global gateway to investigative journalism - a multimedia platform for the best original stories by some of the best journalists in the world, commissioned by, reported, written, edited, and published or produced for WIRE. The privately owned company includes investors who are socially committed to this work and who don't expect 20-plus percent annual profits - people I know personally and trust.

Then comes the business model, which relies both on payment for content and donations from readers and "associates":

(B)y the end of 2013 profits were at 5 percent. By then, we had accumulated one thousand media partners throughout the world, using a syndication model in which content is exchanged for online page views, which WIRE then uses to sell advertising - with a share of that advertising income paid back to the partner site. Revenue is derived from advertising and reader donations. The latter has vastly exceeded our expectations. Thousands of civic-minded individuals became so excited by the historic nature of WIRE and the public service it provides that they became reader-contributors, what we call WIRE Associates - crowd-funding by credit card, not for an individual project or subject area, but for the entire operation.

Will it work? Looks like we'll soon find out.

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