The debacle has taken a toll. Last December, the Center announced a $2 million budget gap, and began slashing jobs. All told, it has shed more than a third of its staff—14 people have been laid off and five open positions eliminated—and eaten through $1.4 million of its reserves. One reason for the shortfall is a steep drop in foundation funding, a trend some insiders see as a side effect of the business plan. As one argued, “Why would foundations put up money for something every daily newspaper and most blogs are doing?” Another factor is the money the Center plowed into the venture. “We took our general operating support and invested it in the new business model, expecting it would bring a financial return,” Buzenberg explains. “That hasn’t happened.”
Buzenberg insists that, in some ways at least, the bold experiment has paid off: The organization has become more digitally savvy and nimble in its reporting. “The Center for Public Integrity makes no apology for being ambitious and investing in a new business model to create additional revenue streams,” he says. “This is a period of tremendous transition, change, and opportunity in the news business—and no news organization has come up with all the answers.”
Solomon, meanwhile, has continued along the same path. After leaving the Center, he was hired as editor of news and investigations for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. But he resigned abruptly in January, and has since rededicated himself to launching a new digital daily called The Washington Guardian. “It’s an investigative news project—something like Jack Anderson would do if he were still alive,” Solomon explains. He adds that it will be both “platform agnostic” and “revenue agnostic,” meaning he’ll wrap the content in any package he thinks will sell, be it syndicated television programming or ebooks. Based on what he’s hearing from potential advertisers and syndications partners, he says he’s optimistic that the project will not only make money, but cut a path to a new business model as lucrative as the one that sustained modern journalism in its heyday. “A lot of people believe the industry is in the midst of this terrible Darwinian downsizing,” Solomon notes. “I, for one, am intent on proving that the best days of journalism are ahead.”
If history is any guide, that means it’s time to run for cover.
Corrections: Re: The Washington Times—Several sources told CJR that the redesigned website was unpopular with the Times’s aging readership, but CJR misinterpreted their statements to mean that this had caused the paper to lose traffic. In fact, prior to Solomon’s arrival the paper had only a basic site that was rarely updated, and with the introduction of the new site—which posted stories regularly and was aggressively promoted—traffic rose. The site was redesigned again in 2010, after which traffic (which had fallen sharply after the 2009 shakeup) rose steeply.
Re: The Center for Public Integrity—In the phrase “the number of pageviews on the Center’s website rose from around 300,000 to 1.13 million” the word “monthly” was omitted before “pageviews.” Also, CPI’s tuna series was “submitted” for a Pulitzer prize rather than “nominated”; the people who run the Pulitzers prefer to reserve the word “nominated” for entries that the judges pick as finalists, which is not the case here. CJR regrets the errors.