Indeed, subscriptions to E&E Publishing are expensive because the group targets institutional subscribers—government agencies, policy organizations, NGOs, advocacy groups, universities, and the like—rather than individuals. It’s a contentious issue.

“Joe Six-Pack isn’t going to subscribe to ClimateWire because he doesn’t know about it, can’t afford it, or isn’t interested until they read or hear [the issues] in big-Journalism,” the AP’s Borenstein said to Fialka. “That’s our job – to provide him with enough news that he’ll be interested in plumbing in even further depth at places like yours, or Mother Nature Network, or Grist … Like it or not, we’re sort of the first door, and once we get [readers’] interest, then you’re the next door. And I think both doors are important, but don’t go telling us that you can live without us because they’re not going to come to you if they haven’t heard it from one of us.”

Both Schaffer and Fialka, in response, pointed out that ClimateWire may end up striking content distribution deals with places like Google News, Politico, or The New York Times. But the debate goes to show that until some of these projects multiply and mature, the reach of startup projects, whether they focus partially or entirely on science, will remain a contentious issue.

The bottom line, of course, is the need to find a new way (or ways) to finance journalism, which isn’t particular to the science beat. These cannot all be “labors of love,” as Schaffer described a few projects. Indeed, as we reported here on Wednesday, Slate V just shelved its three-month-old weekly science roundup, Grand Unified Weekly, because of cost. Going straight to the heart of the panel’s largest concern, the idea behind the program was to cater to those who have only a few “spare minutes” to keep up with science news. Such is the state of journalism.

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.