Want to get paid for journalism? Don’t be afraid to ask your audience

Last autumn, I was talking to a colleague and we were discussing the economic challenges the news industry, and really just about every other content industry, faces. I finally just boiled it down to this:

Anyone can write these days, but getting paid for it is a bitch.

We live in a world where 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute (as of May 2013) and between 600,000 to 1 m books were published this year in the US alone. The amount of content available creates a challenge that not only journalists but also musicians, film makers and writers face. There is just so much stuff competing for people’s attention. National Public Radio’s On the Media asked recently: Who’s gonna pay for this stuff? 

Here is how the hosts framed the discussion:

BOB GARFIELD:  As far back as we can remember, media was among the most lucrative industries on earth. The symbiosis of mass media and mass marketing was a path paved with profit for the  entertainment and information industries.

But today’s cheap and relatively simple technology have lowered the barriers of entry into that world, yielding a nearly infinite glut of stuff, brilliant and otherwise, to compete for audience and funding from every other thing out there, whether made by Warner Bros., or a Korean pop singer whose video was the first to hit a billion views on YouTube.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  The “Big Bang” in content has exploded the mass of mass media into a zillion fragments, most of which lack the critical mass to survive solely on ad revenue. So, who’s gonna pay for this stuff?

It’s a great show, well worth listening to if you’re passionate about finding the new business models to support journalism and other media in this age of abundance.

It’s a great programme that unpicks some of the issues, and if journalism is your passion, it’s well worth listening to the section on crowdfunding, including a Kickstarter campaign by Roman Mars, the host of 99% Invisible, to fund his third season. I loved this bit:

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Has your success using Kickstarter changed your view of your future?

ROMAN MARS: Definitely. I did Kickstarter because I needed a problem solved. I needed to, to pay myself a little bit of something and pay my contributors to do this show, because I was going broke paying them and not paying myself. It was just about that.

What I got from Kickstarter changed the way I viewed like my audience and how I can operate in this world. It gave me time. There’s a perversity of money that money follows money [LAUGHS], and so like when I raised money on Kickstarter, I got more underwriting support.

Exactly, that’s exactly it. You know, I realized in this process, and part of this is, you know, me enjoying the success of the Kickstarter campaign, is that I kind of like solving the problem of funding the show. I didn’t think I would ever enjoy this part.

But I kind of like it. I kind of like this idea of entrepreneurial journalism. It’s just a puzzle, like anything else. And I’m a producer, and my job is to solve problems. And this is just the most immediate problem that we have.

Listen to the entire segment. It’s worth it just to hear Mars’ enthusiasm.

I really loved this for so many reasons. He became passionate about solving the problem of funding his journalism, but in the end, he found an authentic, honest way to involve his audience not just in creating the podcast but also in supporting it. US public radio has long history of listener pledge drives so crowdfunding projects is just a natural extension of that. The crowdfunding campaign showed that there was demand for what he was doing. That’s important, and crowdfunding isn’t just about raising money but also seeing if there is demand for what you’re doing.

What really grabbed me about this was Mars’ passion about solving the problem of sustainability. It’s great to hear, and I hope that Mars’ passion is infectious. It certainly rubbed off on me.

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