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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