The Future

This week I was contacted by a former reporter in Portland Oregon who is assembling a group of laid-off investigative reporters to launch a non-profit, non-partisan investigative news service.  The start-up will be called Portland Voice and will have a similar model replicated by MinnPost, TexasTrib, Voice of San Diego, Bay Citizen, and Crosscut.  

In an effort to raise funding from potential investors, they will be showcasing the “Fit to Print” teaser trailer as a call to arms in supporting that dying form of reporting known as investigative journalism.  

James Swenson, who is a part of the Portland Voice effort mentioned in his e-mail that, ” Many of us have been victims of the precise circumstance your film describes.  Your documentary is incredibly timely. We look forward to it’s distribution. In the meantime, the trailer does an excellent job of capsulizing the dilemma and the impacts on our democratic form of government.”  

The “Fit to Print” crew and I are very happy to hear that we are making a difference out there.  Even if it comes in the form of a feature film.  The best part of embarking on a project such as this is the unexpected surprises which come along the way.  This is one of them.  We hope we can contribute further material (even after the film is completed) to help emerging and existing start-ups for news.  The original pitch for the “Fit to Print” project fits in well with this. My fellow journalism-junkie friends and I were discussing the scope of the project in our initial meeting, and the bottom line was always: ‘How can we move forward into the future of print or digital journalism without a clear understanding of what has taken place over the past half-century, while also closely looking at what is taking place within this paradigm shift now in real-time?’  

We hope that by providing footage of what is taking place within legacy media and start-ups for news, we will be able to fulfill that bottom line.  

The members of the emerging Portland Voice will be using the teaser trailer for person-to-person presentations in order to raise the funding needed to start the site.  They will be attempting to raise $3.3 million in start-up to cover the first three years of operation.  The goal is to begin with a staff of 25, including 8 full time professional investigative journalists, multimedia producers, a community editor, development and marketing person(s), editor-in-chief and CEO.  “We are cultivating partnerships with legacy media and new media organizations (ala ProPublica)”, mentioned Swenson.  

We wish them the best of luck in this exciting new venture.  

As we see news sites emerging (and some good investigative sites pop-up), the question should come in two parts: 1) How will these sites maintain funding in the long-term?  2) How many investigative reporters can each organization employ right now and in the forseeable future?

It’s fantastic that a non-profit organization is able to hire web-developers, multi-media producers, editors and marketing staffers, but the bottom line has to be with those doing the actual investigative work.  

It would be interesting to see more individuals receiving grants to do reporting on a solo basis.  That is, provide former news employees the opportunity to become their own brands as contract employees.  By providing a hub for connection, they would each be able to share their content for individual assignments without ever having to meet in person. A photographer could go off and shoot on her own. A reporter could report on his own.  The editor could edit on his own.  The videographer could shoot on his own.  What would be missing in this equation?  The brand.  

When the deadline or work for a story is completed, it would be presented together as one component. The need for the brand would no longer exist because the individuals would be their own brands.  They would be connected not by people, but by automation which would connect stories to photos and videos instantly.  

How would we distinguish professional journalists from citizen journalists?  There would be a number of ways to acheive this.  Perhaps by accrediting previous newsroom staffers with a ranking system for their previous experience, while also awarding emerging staffers or citizen journalists the opportunity to earn similar status as they produce more work and establish their own reputation.  

Is the organization or brand that important to maintain anymore?  Do we even need start-ups to slightly resemble legacy media platforms?  Why not contract each phase of the reporting process out by category.  Contract a reporter, photographer, videographer to go out there and get the content, and let the gelling of each of these elements come together on it’s own.  Let the filter be different each time out.  Imagine if a great reporter previously from The Washington Post was able to connect with a great editor from half-way across the world.  Or a great photo-journalist previously from The Seattle P.I. being able to connect with a young reporter in Miami who is making a name for herself.  

Perhaps this is a little over the top, but in a journalism world where the tectonic plates seem to be shifting every day, it’s interesting to throw another idea out there.  Especially when there seems to be no band-aid big enough to cover the gushing wound inflicted on the industry by …well… itself.

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