Tom Stites had a long career in newspapers, editing Pulitzer-winning projects and working at top newspapers like The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. In recent years, he’s shifted his emphasis to trying to figure out a new business model for journalism through the Banyan Project. Here, Tom outlines where he believes web journalism stands today and one model he thinks might work; here’s part one, here’s part two, and this is part three.
Maybe we’ve been looking for models in all the wrong places. To find the elusive secret to making web journalism sustainable in community after community, maybe we need to take a peek behind the curtain into the secret sector of the economy.
For years now, people have been trying to devise business models for online community journalism that are both sustainable and replicable, but the usual sectors aren’t delivering: Only a few isolated for-profit sites are generating enough advertising revenue to support themselves while producing the original reporting that’s so crucial to civic health and democracy; on the nonprofit side, there are nowhere near enough philanthropic dollars to support enough sites, at least not for long (see part one of this series). And the idea of public-sector news publishing gets tangled up in the First Amendment.
It’s common to think these three sectors are all there are, but there’s a fourth — the cooperative sector — which future-of-journalism efforts are just starting to explore.