“Only lately in the past couple of years have you had professional journalists launch independent news sites, as they were severed from their news organizations,” said Schaffer. “So they have to learn how to both run a business and do journalism, and not everyone is good at that.”

For journalistic innovation right now, the learning curve is as steep as the stakes.

By looking more closely at failure, we certainly would not want to discourage any future efforts. It’s human nature to laugh at failure: A guy tries to skateboard off a roof onto a trampoline and lands on his friend with the video camera instead. Fail! You thought you could “save journalism” and make a little money at the same time. Epic fail! We feel comforted by failure. It feels good to laugh at someone who has tried and failed because it affirms our self-preservational, cowardly instincts not to try ourselves. At our FailFaire or FailBlog, as at the MobileActive party, mocking would not be allowed.

As the saying goes, we don’t know what will work until someone tries it. Or, more realistically, until many people try it in slightly different markets in slightly different ways. We can’t avoid quoting the over-quoted Clay Shirky line, “Nothing will work, but everything might.”

If everyone is afraid to fail, and no one tries anything, we’re doomed. The key here is to examine why things fail, and to contribute to a collective memory, an institutional base of knowledge and experience. Let’s not let the brave innovators slink away in sadness if their businesses go bust; let’s encourage them to speak up about what they’ve learned.

Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner