Suppose The Boston Globe closed its newsroom tomorrow. Where would we feel the impact most severely?
challenge for the Boston area would be to replace The Globe’s
investigative reporting and hard news. The sites I linked to above are
great, but none are doing the type of reporting that helped expose abuse in the Catholic Church. Independent publishers can rarely justify weeks of research or coding in order to
produce a single piece of content.
So if the Globe continues to shrink, how will we as a
community continue to give our institutions the scrutiny they need?
Some say we’re already seeing what happens when public scrutiny declines.
solution is to create a non-profit local ad network to fund local
investigative journalism projects. The network would be controlled by
the community, and would have a small staff to sell ads, give grants to
reporters, and manage the network. It would be a self-sustaining
mechanism for funding investigative journalism.
Folks I’ve spoken with about this idea have raised two main questions:
(1) Why does the network need to be run by a non-profit?
goal is to generate local income to fund local investigative reporting.
In a for-profit company, even one that doesn’t take money from
investors, that goal would be eclipsed by the need to generate income for
the business’ owners. Google and family-run newspapers have been able
to balance wealth creation and the public good, but those are monopoly
businesses. Local online news is a hyper-competitive market. Any
business dallying in unprofitable work like investigative journalism
will be run over.
There’s at least one other reason a non-profit makes sense: Many local
publishers write for non-economic reasons. These publishers are more
likely to work with an ad network created to achieve non-economic goals.
(2) Would the ad network be able to generate enough income to support itself and its goals?
don’t know yet. But there’s reason to believe it could improve upon the
AdSense revenue many local publishers currently receive. AdSense undervalues quality local web sites. Impressions and clicks on quality
sites likes Our Daily Red should be more valuable than impressions and clicks on splogs like Dailyred.com,
but with AdSense there’s essentially no difference. A local ad network
would help quality local publishers capture the full value they offer
advertisers, the same way Federated Media does for national publishers.
What do you think? What are the challenges with this approach? How can we try something like this in Boston?