In other words, I tend to think the tortoise in this race is journalism produced by individuals willing to endure extremely small budgets to build an audience and revenue streams over time, independent of agenda-driven charitable organizations and deep-pocketed vanity publishers. Some well-endowed nonprofits see things differently; there admittedly is a divide among nonprofit journalism organizations about scale.

But the nonprofit journalism outfits that spend big bucks can’t go on forever, can they? I don’t think the large nonprofit journalism entities coming into being these days are the future, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

In his conclusion, Zunz elevates the importance not of big donors, but of many small ones. “If there is a lesson from the history I have told,” Zunz concludes, “it is that philanthropy enlarges democracy when it is an activity in which the many participate.”

The same, I think, will be true of the journalism, whether for-profit or nonprofit, that emerges in the next half century. Lean operations of committed journalists, fiercely protective of their independence and eager for commercial success—but flexible in their planning and patient for growth—will create the next generation of quality journalism. You haven’t heard of very many of them yet, but you will. 

 

Tom McGeveran is a co-founder and editor of Capital New York, a for-profit news and commentary site that recently raised $1.7 million from private investors. He previously was editor of The New York Observer.