National online news aggregators have created business models for mass audiences and advertising they hope will make them profitable. They aggregate blogs and some reporting of their own with links to and summaries of news reported by other media, along with plentiful photographs and videos. The small staff at Newser, for example, rewrites stories taken from news media Web sites. The Drudge Report’s Matt Drudge, who has been at it much longer, simply links to other sites’ content, along with bits of occasionally reliable media and political gossip. Founders Ariana Huffington of HuffingtonPost and Tina Brown of The Daily Beast, who are media celebrities themselves, have attracted numerous freelance contributors and volunteer bloggers, including big-name writers, to supplement their relatively small writing and editing staffs. HuffingtonPost on the left and Drudge on the right also display clear ideological leanings in their selection of stories, links and blogs.
Newspapers complain that some aggregators violate copyrights by using their work without payment or a share of the aggregators’ advertising revenue, although the aggregators also link to the original stories on the papers’ Web sites. At issue, besides the trade between paying the papers on the one hand and driving some readers to their sites on the other, is the current state of copyright law, which has not kept up with issues raised by digital publication. It has not been decided, for example, how much of a story can be republished, or in what form, before the prevailing principle of “fair use” is violated.
In a departure from other for-profit aggregators, HuffingtonPost has joined with the American News Project, a nonprofit print and video investigative reporting entity, to invest in a HuffingtonPost Investigative Fund, a legally separate nonprofit based in Washington with about a dozen investigative journalists and initial funding of $1.75 million, including $500,000 from HuffingtonPost. The fund’s editor, former Washington Post investigative editor Larry Roberts, said it will provide reporting on national subjects for use by HuffingtonPost and other news media, much the way that ProPublica does. He said that he has a commitment from Huffington that the project would be editorially independent and nonpartisan.
We are not recommending a government bailout of newspapers, nor any of the various direct subsidies that governments give newspapers in many European countries.
The fast-growing number of digital startups, ambitious blogs, experiments in pro-am journalism, and other hybrid news organizations are not replacing newspapers or broadcast news. But they increasingly depend on each other—the old media for news and investigative reporting they can no longer do themselves and the newcomers for the larger audiences they can reach through newspapers, radio, and television—and for the authority that these legacy media outlets still convey. The many new sources of news reporting have become, in the span of a relatively few years, significant factors in the reconstruction of American journalism.
How are colleges and universities contributing to independent news reporting?
A number of universities are publishing the reporting of their student journalists on the states, cities, and neighborhoods where the schools are located. The students work in journalism classes and news services under the supervision of professional journalists now on their faculties. The students’ reporting appears on local news Web sites operated by the universities and in other local news media, some of which pay for the reporting to supplement their own. In southern Florida, for example, The Miami Herald, The Palm Beach Post, and Sun Sentinel have agreed to use reporting from journalism students at Florida International University.
The University of Missouri is unique in having run its own local daily newspaper, the Columbia Missourian, since 1908, when its journalism school opened. This valuable journalism laboratory has professional editors and a reporting staff of journalism students. Other universities, meanwhile, publish local news Web sites. In New York, Columbia’s journalism school operates several sites with reporting by its students in city neighborhoods, and investigative reporting by students in the school’s Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism has appeared in several major news outlets.