Archive for April 18th, 2009

Foundations, heal thyselves!

18 April 2009

The recent announcement about the Huffington Post Investigative Fund raised some concerns for me, not so much with how the journalism will be organized (although there’s plenty to talk about just there) but more on how philanthropy may not be properly organized to serve this need.

Here’s what I see unfolding:

First, various media observers (Paul Starr, Jay Rosen) are beginning to talk about journalism (Starr) or more specifically investigative journalism (Rosen, twittering away) as a “public good.” This takes the argument for “non profit journalism” (which for instance, Vince Stehle’s recent piece in the Chronicle of Philanthropy neatly laid out) and extends it: it’s no longer just about the structure of financing and operations – now it’s perceived to be actually intrinsic to the work itself. If this consensus takes hold, I think it’s actually a big deal for how journalism or investigative journalism will be perceived in the near future.

I’m personally not sure about Starr’s argument that “news delivered to the public is a public good,” (Brittney Spears a public good?) but I do think Rosen’s case that investigative journalism is a public good can be made. Historically delivered via private, commercial media operations, but now with the upheaval in the business (particularly metropolitan daily newspapers), the search is on for a new home for investigative journalism. The argument then goes that given its status as a public good, investigative journalism “ought” to be supported via some sort of public funding, or at least funding made in the public trust. That is, philanthropy. And so we see a kind of intellectual backfilling going on to justify what’s beginning to unfold: big donors (like the Sandlers) or foundations (Atlantic Philanthropies) putting major money into investigative journalism. And of course this has been Mother Jones’ MO for 33 years.

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Housekeeping

18 April 2009

I’ll be adding to the blogroll and changing some of the look and feel over the next couple of weeks.

What is this ladder?

18 April 2009

What is this ladder? Try this. It’s a way to start the conversation

Introducing Maimonides’ Ladder

18 April 2009

I used to do a lot of writing besides the stuff that has to get done at work. These days, not so much. I want to change that with this blog. The main thing I want to use this for is to chronicle and try to figure out how journalism will get paid for in the coming years. There’s been a lot of talk about, and some experimentation with, ways to answer this question, but so far the way forward isn’t all that clear.

As other options started to get shaky, people began looking at a non profit option (some dignified it with the word, “model” – yeesh) for journalism. Instead of it being seen as marketFAIL – if you can’t sell stuff to support the journalism, the thinking goes, then “the market” obviously doesn’t want you so get outta here – now some are seeing it as the wisest way forward – after all, it should allow you to diversify your revenue stream to include both “real” money and contributions. Other experiments are going all the way, rejecting traditional sources of revenue like advertising or subscriptions, and just doing the donation route.

Well, a lot of the thinking and doing in all this is coming not from people who actually think about non profits and fundraising, but from biz dev refugees from the commercial media, or from journalists themselves who are by and large, making it up as they go along.

I figure I can at least apply a fundraising filter to all the talk, to see if what’s being proposed and test makes sense from the point of view of fundraising practice. Maybe that’ll be useful. At least it’ll give me a place to think about it.

The flip side is that the journos who are trying out the new stuff are coming up with some pretty interesting approaches to fundraising – so it’s a two way street. And so maybe I can carry some of that back into the fundraising trade, too.

So that’s mainly what I’m starting this blog to do.

Me? Maybe there are people who actually choose to spend their working time as a fundraiser. I sort of fell into it, being (back then, anyway) a young, low-cost white boy looking for a cause and who could write decently.

I’ve been doing non profit stuff since the mid-70s. I worked for a few years back in the Bronx and Brooklyn doing street level work – fundraising, project management, organizing. Worked in the arts in the 80s out in the Bay Area (mostly with a great ensemble, Traveling Jewish Theatre), and fell in love (again) with the theater during that time. In the 90s and early part of the new century, I shifted over to the environmental scene, ending up running a pretty large size development department at Earthjustice (nee Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund) for several years (at some point, if there’s a lesson to be shared, I’ll have to tell the story of why I left). I joined up with Mother Jones in 2003 (I was a subscriber way back), and that’s where I am today, and why this question is on my mind.

Oh yeah: I did get a PhD in Sociology from UC Santa Cruz along the way.

I’ll probably also use this blog for more personal stuff, too – health issues are on my mind these days. If I’m not posting for a while, I hope that’s because I’m out backpacking somewhere majestic. Probably rant some, too, when it’s called for.

(Update March 2010: I’m now the publisher of Mother Jones, too.)