Thursday, August 21, 2014

The New Age of Journalism: Media Companies Begging for Funds

From time to time we get new measures of how low the media biz has fallen, but here's a particularly interesting one, as reported by Advertising Age:
Last night The Huffington Post sent out a press release with the highfalutin title "The Huffington Post Is Not Leaving Ferguson." It contained the text of a article by Ryan Grim, HuffPo's Washington bureau chief, that begins: 
"What happens in Ferguson and the St. Louis metro area the day after everybody leaves? It's a question on the minds of nearly every resident, who know the camera crews will eventually fold up their sticks and pack up their vans .... We plan to be there as it all unfolds. For The Huffington Post, this'll involve a first-of-its-kind collaboration with readers, the local community and the Beacon Reader to create what we're calling the Ferguson Fellowship." 
Sounds good, right? Then there's the next sentence: 
"With reader support, we'll hire a local citizen journalist who's been covering the turmoil and train her to become a professional journalist ... " 
Uh, what? 
Yes, AOL's HuffPo is raising funds to allow one Mariah Stewart to continue what she's already been doing as a "citizen journalist." With your support, Grim continues, Stewart will be able to "work directly with HuffPost's criminal justice reporter Ryan Reilly to cover the ongoing story of Ferguson ….” 
So, you see, HuffPo is actually going to be leaving Ferguson after all -- despite that headline -- but it wants you to pony up so local resident Stewart can create content for HuffPo.
One could reasonably argue that it is a good thing for media companies to train 'citizen journalists', but it seems strange that AOL thinks its readers should give it the cash to do so.

Some journalists, including this one from The Guardian, are a bit bemused by the spectacle.

Ad Age thinks HuffPo ought to expand the program to getting readers to pay for their celebrity boob page:
I look forward to HuffPo crowdfunding some of its other essential journalism. 
Readers, won't you make a donation today to support HuffPo's nip-slip coverage? If you've ever gone to HuffPo's Wardrobe Malfunctions department page -- where, this morning, you can find headlines like "NSFW PHOTOS: Model Has Nip Slip On 'Arbitrage' Red Carpet" and "Maria Menounos On Her 'Bikini Malfunction': 'Oh No, My Vagina's Out'" -- then you owe it to HuffPo to cough up some cash, you cheapskate pervert.
But, while I have no objection to boob reports, I think I see other possibilities.

For example, at one time it was considered the role of local media, especially major metro newspapers, to provide polling on local elections.

Arizona, for example, has a very hot Republican primary for governor featuring six candidates, three of whom are believed to be tightly bunched for the lead. You'd think there would be lots of polls. But if you go to RealClearPolitics, you'll see that there are very few, and none are by the state's leading newspaper, The Arizona Republic, or any other state media outlet.

This is not peculiar to Arizona. I clicked on several other states that have tight gubernatorial elections – Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida. In none are there any local media polls. I did see a Sun-Times poll on the Illinois race, and one by The Albuquerque Journal (really -- an Albuquerque paper has the resources to do polls, but The Arizona Republic and The Miami Herald don't? Seriously?)

Of course, the Republic's cash is probably tied up in paying severance packages to all the reporters it's laying off. And now that its parent company, Gannett, has kicked it to the curb (“Hey, kid, you've got thirty days to find a job and move out of the basement, or I'm dumping your clothes on the street”), things are probably even tighter.

But maybe newspapers could take their cue from AOL and beg enough from their readers to fund a poll or two. If that works, they could try funding layoffs the same way:
Dear readers:  
Which of our reporters and columnists annoy you the most?  
Each reader making a $20 contribution to the Republic Layoff Fund gets a vote, and the biggest votegetters get the sack! 
What could be fairer?

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