Darnton agreed with Cornog that, “Somewhere journalism got a bad name.” The first indication that amateur reporters were picking up the slack for professional news, in his opinion, was the Rodney King beating in 1991.
Newspapers need to find a business model for such Web reporting that will allow them to stay current, Darnton said. He cited VoiceofSanDiego.com and MinnPost.com as good examples of traditional journalism start-ups on the
Web, but cautioned that their business models “aren’t replicable everywhere,” and that those operations are still very limited. Jarvis chimed in to add ProPublica to the list of start-ups doing traditional journalism on the Web.
Jarvis said that at a recent event at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism, students looked for a news business model for online reporting. One of the unique positions that they came up with was that of “community manager,” a
person whose fulltime job would be to integrate citizen reporting into the site. He said that traditional media outlets should be more willing to experiment and share the results of those experiments. “There is no time to lose,” he said. Jarvis added that he is confident that there is still market demand for professional, investigative reporting, but that the journalism industry is still transforming into an undetermined size, scale, and shape. There will probably be a smaller core of journalists at the center, and news outlets will be more collaborative. He also noted that startup outlets “won’t be able to access big amounts of capital anymore. Darnton agreed, saying that advertising revenue is “particularly tricky” right now, charity funding is unreliable, government funding almost out of the question, and
subscription revenue is unsustainable.
Darnton said there is a misperception of professional journalists as being “up on Mt. Olympus,” rendering thumbs-up, thumb-down verdicts,” when in fact they are there to “enhance the experience for the user.” He also said he favors large news operations because they have the money to pay for revenue-losing operations such as investigations. Amateur operations could not do that, he said. On the other hand, Jarvis pointed to citizen-generated
Web sites in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean Tsunami that provided valuable, highly localized information about safety, rescue, and support operations. Relying on amateur reporting does not always work out
during emergencies, however, Jarvis noted. After the bombing of the London Underground, one of the first citizen reports said incorrectly that there had been a power blackout. But with so many camera phones on the ground,
Jarvis concluded, news outlets must find ways to motivate and educate audiences and pay a professional to manage that community.
Case Studies 3 & 4
For the final case studies session, Columbia Journalism School professor, CJR contributor, and New Republic music critic David Hajdu introduced two men “whose work “illuminates how the very nature of journalism is changing.”
The first to speak was Robert Cox, president of the Media Blogger Association (MBA), whose case discussed increasing legal threats to bloggers and resources at their disposal. The MBA provides legal resources, helps
arrange blogger press passes, and provides media liability insurance, among other services. Cox told the previously undisclosed story of a blogger and Huffington Post contributor who had called the MBA when she found out she was being sued for defamation. The blogger had wrongly reported that a schoolmistress had been charged in a sexual abuse case. When the blogger called Cox, however, she seemed defensive and complained that the schoolmistress had not called her to correct the mistake, so she had done nothing wrong. Cox believes the case against the blogger has been dropped. But misunderstandings are “very typical of the bloggers I’ve talked to,” he said. “They don’t have any understanding of the laws that relate to what they’re doing.” That’s not always the case, Cox added, but blogs clearly have the power for “transformative good” or “great harm.”
Cox then described the MBA’s history and work. It was founded in 2004 as a “mutual defense pact” for bloggers, who have “inherent legal and operational risks.” Though they’re often one-person or small operations, they are just
as exposed as any major media company. Cox said that blogs took off in earnest four years ago, and lawsuits “immediately followed.” The MBA has been involved in over 400 cases. The vast majority have been defamation
cases, like the blogger from Wisconsin, but there have also been a number of privacy and copyright violations. Sectors like pharmaceuticals, real estate, and government “tend to be” the most litigious. “But the good news is that
bloggers mostly win,” Cox said. Thirty-five percent of cases “go away,” and bloggers win 92 percent of judgments and settlements. But the cost of defense has been going up and settlements have been as high as $20 million.