Apocalypse 27: The Gift that Keeps on Taking

By , 15 June, 2009, No Comment

The nonprofitization of journalism continued this weekend with the decision by the AP, a nonprofit that serves for-profit papers, to get its content from other nonprofits and gift it to papers for free. This is a break from the AP’s old practice of effectively selling content to its members by charging them membership fees.

The only people now willing to fund reporting, it seems, are niche nonprofits and most have an ideological agenda. This is fine when you are consuming their content on its own terms: I know when I read The Nation that I am getting a liberal take on life. But when cause journalism is aggregated by the AP and then passed off as ideologically neutral to the country’s mainstream papers, I worry.

Moreover, as I’ve outlined before, these small cause outfits usually fund the hard costs of reporting but not the careers of full-time reporters, which means all of us take up jobs in non-journalistic fields to pay our bills, slowly eroding our journalistic expertise. 

Faced with the challenge of financing their own reporting OR EVEN financing the AP membership rate, it makes short-term economic sense for newspapers to rely on free content from nonprofit newsrooms. But in the long-term, it does nothing to solve the core problems. To the extent that local papers–the AP’s members–are supposed to revive themselves by focusing on what they know best (their local communities and their relationships to readers)–outsourcing MORE of their content to people with national agendas hardly seems helpful. Most importantly, how can newspapers tell the reading or advertising public that their content has value when they themselves are willing to pay exactly $0 to fund it?

Like many things now touted out as solutions to the media conundrum, the decentralized gift economy strikes me as a gift that keeps on taking.

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