Doubtless you’ve already heard the hot new angle to the ongoing Death Of Journalism meme – Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post blog (which is really way to big to be fairly labelled a blog any more, I think) has started a foundation to fund the ‘proper’ investigative journalism that has been so sorely lacking in recent years… with respect to, for example, the invasion liberation of oil-rich countries and the collapse of high-finance Ponzi schemes.
Jeff Jarvis sees this as a harbinger of things to come, suggesting that a small elite with money to spare will benevolently support investigative journalism for the benefit of all:
This, I believe, is how journalism will get money directly from readers—not through subscriptions, micropayments, and pay walls but from the generous contributions of the few who pay for efforts that benefit the many. That is the 1 percent rule behind Wikipedia: 1 percent of its readers write it. And that is how public broadcasting is supported today in the U.S. I can’t imagine the public wanting to pay to buoy the sinking Titanics of old-media failures; I don’t want to contribute to failed newspapers anymore than I want my tax money going to failed banks and auto companies. But I can imagine readers contributing to assure that government is watched.
Now, maybe I’ve just been over-trained to the cynical mindset of the science fictional thinker, but I’m really struggling to find any advantage in this idea by comparison to the status quo, above and beyond the fact that someone will be paying journalists to do something.
Nick Penniman, the fund’s executive director, vowed that the work produced through The Huffington Post Investigative Fund would be non-partisan. He said: “We care about democracy, not Democrats.”
Great institutions are built with the best of intentions… but once they become a system in their own right, they develop all the dark nooks and bolt-holes for corruption that their predecessors had. I honestly believe HuffPo cares about democracy, but that’s because the people running it still care. Time corrupts and disillusions us; systems and organisations expand, and idealism is diluted. The HuffPo foundation will still be an organisation with a pot of money that pays lumps of that money to journalists for what it considers to be good stories… which is different to newspapers how, exactly? Caesar hears what is pleasing unto Casear, after all… especially when he’s sitting on your paycheck.
Just to make it plain, I’m not throwing accusations of corruption, cynicism or partisanship toward anyone involved in what is evidently an admirable and philanthropic project. I’m merely suggesting that those things are emergent properties of any hierarchical system, and to imagine the same snowblindness that affects established ‘old media’ can be avoided simply by having one’s heart in the right place strikes me as a little naive.
Investigative journalism will always struggle while the majority of news consumers fail to realise how important it is; news consumers will only support investigative journalism financially when they can see tangible examples of it working directly for their benefit. So, I believe that foundations might be a solution, but only ones that are driven from the end-user level have even the remotest chance of not drifting onto someone’s party line.
Journalism doesn’t need the Huffington Post… but the top dogs of politically-focussed new media need the legitimacy of old-school journalism to cement their standing in the eyes of the politicians and their voters. Discuss.