This post is for the Carnival of Journalism. Every month some of the top journalism thinkers around get together to debate topics in journalism.
What’s the biggest problem facing journalism today?
Lack of journo-hackers? Not enough staff resources? Too little focus on mobile? Not enough data? Print curmudgeons? Lack of free coffee for employees?
No. The biggest problem facing journalism today, particularly at legacy news operations, has nothing to do with journalism. The biggest problem facing journalism — a traditionally ad-supported industry — is the inability to support itself with ads via the Internet.
This is the last year of the Knight News Challenge in its current form. It’s had a few notable successes — Spot.Us and Everyblock. It’s had far more failures than successes and a bit of redundancy. But that’s to be expected and encouraged.
After all this competition is all about taking risks and trying new things. The problem has been Knight’s insistence on not caring about whether or not projects could make money. I had a high ranking Knight News Challenge person tell me that Knight doesn’t care if every project fails to be able to support itself financially or if every project just plain fails.
I think it’s time for that to change. In fact, it’s time for Knight to start funding projects whose only objective is to help news organizations make money. And I think it’s time for Knight to care that some of its project succeed.
Last year Windy Citizen’s real time ad project was funded. Will it succeed? Not sure yet, but more ideas like it would really help journalism.
I guarantee you we would have a lot more innovative ways to do journalism and inform the public if we had more ways to financially support journalism. We’re seeing a rise of non-profit journalism, which is good, but we’ll need more than that.
How about an open source Groupon competitor that news orgs could install? How about a new classifieds platform that crushes Craigslist on usability and experience? How about an open source self-administered ad platform ala Facebook ads?
These are all things news organizations could use. These are all ways news organizations could better support themselves online. But what about business ideas that no one has even thought about yet?
One of things I love most about Spot.Us is that it’s a project that has the audacity to ask, “How will we fund meaningful journalism?” To me that’s what Knight needs to get into the business of doing.
Good journalism requires money. While funding mobile application projects may be en vogue, these projects won’t be self sustaining, nor will they get to the heart of what is ailing journalism today. Not to mention that its expensive to develop a good multi-platform mobile application, and it will require years of continued development (which it doesn’t appear many of these applications and best winners are factoring in).
I do believe that journalism itself is changing and that we do need new ways to tell stories. There is no doubt about that. But until we find a way to properly support these new ways of telling stories, will it really matter?