Nonprofit Funders

The connection between nonprofit funders and independent publications is always something I have had questions about. I think it’s great these foundations are willing to support independent publications, but are there really no strings attached? I have always like to hope so, because I haven’t heard any story otherwise, but it doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Jack Schafer wrote a column for Slate addressing this exact issue.

For-profit newspapers lose money accidentally. Nonprofit news operations lose money deliberately. No matter how good the nonprofit operation is, it always ends up sustaining itself with handouts, and handouts come with conditions.

I think we would all like to think that this money doesn’t come with conditions, but that isn’t realistic. Even if it is just sharing the content with the donor when it is published is still a condition. It isn’t a condition that influences what is published, but the publications are still being held accountable to someone or something.

I don’t think this is always a bad thing because it is helpful to make sure publications are holding up their end of the bargain. If the donor expects the publication to write about social justice issues, the publication should probably be writing about social justice issues. It doesn’t mean the donor should have a say in how the social justice issues are covered and the way they are portrayed.

The fear that nonprofit donors and individuals may want to have too much say in the publication does not mean independent media should steer clear of these revenue streams. Publications like Mother Jones, Harper‘s and Christian Science Monitor have successful received nonprofit donations and remained their independence.

On campus, Buzzsaw received funding from Generation Progress, a nonprofit organization. With the funding comes some conditions on the content the magazine publishes. When we applied for the money we had to pick one of four themes that 10 percent of our content would adhere to. We picked a theme that our content already fit into, so Gen Progress was not influencing what we published because we would have already published it.


Audience Importance

Both John Marshall’s keynote speech and the article about successful bloggers, highlighted the importance of having a supportive audience. Support for monetary reasons, as well as for content are main reasons why some blogs are more successful than others. If blogs don’t have readers, it is difficult for them to make money, and there existence is no longer guaranteed. Oftentimes when readers are so involved in a blog, they became more invested and readership will only increase.

Talking Points Memo received support from its audience in multiple ways, which created audience interaction.  Marshall received monetary support, which allowed him to expand the journalism he was producing and actually hire full-time staff. Without that reader support, there is no guarantee the blog would have reached the success it has. His audience also interacted with him by giving him information about stories and sending in tips. As an independent blogger, he didn’t have the resources to travel and interview people throughout the country, but his readers were throughout the country and able to give him information. His readers were a direct reason why he was able to uncover the stories he did.

I thought he made an interesting point in his speech about independent media uncovering the story and reporting it, but then losing it to the mainstream media when the story gains popularity. This just shows that independent media is covering stories they should be covering and doing the work mainstream media isn’t. Even though it would be more ideal if independent bloggers could carry the story through, it is still important that the stories are getting told.

While I Can Has Cheezburger is not a journalistic website, it still portrays the same importance of audience support and contribution. If readers did not send in their own content, the website would not be what it is today. It greatly contributed to its success. The list of bloggers in the rest of the article, show that a simple niche blog idea can reach great success, which then leads to monetary success. Even though not all blogs are going to reach the success to become full-time jobs, they do show that blogs have a place in the media world and should be taken seriously. When ad spots are going for thousands of dollars, they are clearly doing something right.


Lessons to be Learned from George Seldes

In Press Critic George Seldes Leaves a Legacy of Courage, Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon outlined what separated Georges Seldes from traditional mainstream reporters. Seldes frequently questioned stories the government was telling and went directly to the source, instead of relying on what other people were spewing. It would have been much easier for him to follow the path of the majority of reporters; he would have been guaranteed a job, he would have had built in readership, and the FBI wouldn’t have had a 5,000-page investigation on him. He did journalism the way he thought it should be done, despite the struggles and consequences.

Journalists today should look at the Seldes did and learn from it. It’s just as easy today to follow the mainstream media career path and not question authority and regurgitate information. However, today it is easier to do the work Seldes did because of our access to information on the Internet. He had to go out and uncover the stories he was telling that the mainstream media was ignoring. There are an endless amount of records and information that independent journalists can access and tell stories that are hidden or aren’t being told. Seldes saw the importance in telling the stories that were controversial and off the beaten path, and journalists today should take also see the same importance.

While Seldes approached his work from a national and international perspective, journalists should also consider replicating his work at a local and state level. Local and state governments are just as likely to be hiding stories as the national government, and local reporters are most likely still not telling the stories they should. There are different ways and to different degrees that Seldes’s style of journalism can be used. The point is to tell the important story, regardless of who doesn’t want it told.

Seldes’s work showed it wasn’t always easy work, but that should not stop journalists from following the standards he set. With more people doing the kind of journalism he did, the more likely corruption and wrongdoings will be exposed. Even if readership is low, his publication only reached a circulation of 176,000 copies, the right people may read the story to make it spread. The focus shouldn’t be on popularity or fame or money, these things were clearly not Seldes’s focus; the focus should be upholding journalistic ethics and integrity.


Bearing Witness to News

In Arianna Huffington’s blog post, “Bearing Witness 2.0: You Can’t Spin 10,000 Tweets and Camera Phone Uploads,” she addressed the issue of whether eyewitness reporting is always the best method for reporting the most accurate story. In theory, it would make sense that being on the ground witnessing the event would allow for the most accurate portrayal of events, but Huffington does not think that always produces the best story. This may have been the case before “new media,” like Facebook and Twitter, but we have emerged into a time where different resources need to be utilized to see the full picture and have a deeper understanding of the story.

When the Chinese government is personally walking journalists through an event giving them an eye witness account, how can it be argued that their story is more accurate than journalists using the stories people were telling who were involved with the event and had their accounts removed from the Internet by the Chinese government? The government has complete power in revealing what the journalists see and know, and the journalists can see and believe what they want instead of understanding the fuller picture. Journalists should consider all means of retrieving information to more accurately understand an event or story. It is more difficult to deny actual pictures on Twitter and videos on Youtube than an official statement from the government.

It is crucial that journalists understand that media is changing and the methods of obtaining a story are changing. Independent bloggers and journalists were quick to adopt using social media and “non-eyewitness” means of reporting to get their stories to their readers. It is possible to accurately cover a story and still get the atmosphere of the event without actually being on the ground covering it. There are people willing to share their experiences and their information and journalists should be looking to these people in their reporting.

As the Internet has proven time and time again, not everything on the Internet is true, so journalists still have the responsibility of fact checking their information and doing their best to use reliable information.  The potential that something may be wrong or need to be checked shouldn’t prohibit journalists from seeking new media as a way from telling a story. Talking to a police officer at an event could be just as misleading as someone’s tweet. Regardless of the source there always needs to be some skepticism.

One of Huffington’s final points that truly rings true is new media has given a whole new group of journalists the potential to report on different events because they no longer have to be at the event to cover it. This removes the cost and travel barrier that before only elite or mainstream journalists could overcome. New media has opened up the journalistic world for independent journalists to just as actively participate as mainstream and salaried journalists.


Importance of Blogging

The Alternet article about Talking Points Memo winning the George Polk truly epitomizes the importance blogging is playing in the news world. While awards are great and being recognized is nice, the expansion and continual work TPM has undergone exemplifies the role blogging is now playing in the news cycle.

TPM has created a news model that is not just about producers and consumers; it is about the relationship between the two and how there is a give and take. Readers become more invested in a news outlet, when they are actually contributing to the news they are reading, especially when it actually affects them. TPM would not have been able to develop the story about the attorney generals as quick as it did, if it had not not the readers’ support. This is one way blogs are interacting with its readers, and it is a way to create a stronger platform.

TPM was also covering this story before the mainstream media, which shows that blogs need to be taken seriously and be considered credible news sources. The attorney general story was a story the MSM should have been covering, but wasn’t. There is the tendency for blogs to pick up on stories, important stories, the MSM is not catching. Journalists and future journalists need to recognize this because the outlets that should be the most trusted, aren’t necessarily covering the most important stories. There are a lot of stories happening, both nationally and internationally, that could have significant consequences, and the independent bloggers are the ones picking up on it first. Where people should be desiring to work is changing, if future journalists want to be engaging in important journalism.

With this award TPM has also proven that all good journalism does not have to be unbiased work. It has a clear slant and agenda, which works for the type of journalism it is trying to produce. The journalism being produced matches TPM’s goals and beliefs, which is the freedom bloggers have allowed themselves. There is no one that is being answered too, and no one to appease.

Seven years ago when this award was given, TPM had proven that blogs need to be taken seriously in the news business and since then their prominence and importance has only increased.