The most ambitious local blog there is Baltimore Brew, launched in 2009 by Fern Shen, a former reporter for The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post, who has recruited freelancers, including other former Sun journalists, to contribute reporting about the city and its neighborhoods, mostly without pay for the moment. Shen, who runs the blog from her kitchen table with money from an initial angel investor, acknowledged taking advantage of buyouts and layoffs that took about 120 journalists out of the Sun’s newsroom in less than a year. “The folks that used to do things for a paycheck are now doing them for cheap or for free,” she said. “Somebody has to get these reporters back to work again.” She is hoping to take advantage of being named “best local blog” by the Baltimore City Paper to raise revenue from prospective advertisers and eventually create a paying business for herself and her contributors.
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?