Geneva Overholser at the Online Journalism Review wonders whether the traditional business model for journalism - i.e publishing companies run for profit - has distorted the social responsibilities of journalists. She quotes former investment banker Adlai Wertman, who claims that profit-seeking companies "quickly go from no social mission to no social responsibility" - resulting in a distorted notion of "what the public wants" when it comes to journalism, and a terribly inadequate news diet for a self-governing people.

One solution, Overholser suggests, is to create new models that are mission-driven rather than profit-driven  - and which Wertman suggests can still find financial supporters, although it's not entirely clear how. (A hint might be his use of the word 'donors').

It also might mean forgetting about saving journalism for journalism's sake:  “Take the mission away from journalism and think more about journalism as a tool: We care about poverty... how could we use journalism as a tool to make a difference?”

I'm not sure I buy all of this entirely. Mass market journalism has always been umbilically linked to profit-making - the Northcliffes, Beaverbrooks, Maxwells weren't only in newspapers for the ego trip. Yet their motives didn't stop journalists with a well-developed social conscience from thriving alongside colleagues with far less altruistic motivations. The most successful titles have tended to be the ones that manage to balance such competing qualities of their staff most effectively.

A newspaper whose sole purpose was righting social wrongs strikes me as a dull read indeed.

But who knows? The old school press Barons have largely been replaced by faceless shareholders who will be less interested in sticking around as the profits dry up.  Perhaps they will in turn be replaced a new breed of tycoons: caring crusaders for social justice. With deep pockets.

Comments

If only the future were so clear and simple. I would turn cartwheels in rapturous euphoria if I could persuade myself that virtuous, not-for-profit organisations could hold power to account and confront vested interest better than journalism funded by the commercial model. But the bureaucracy, caution and self-interest of the public sector is stultifying and intrinsically hostile to iconoclastic, shibboleth-challenging reporting. So yes, in a perfect world, where everyone was equal, the pro-bono model might really work. On planet earth, I fear not. But I would love to be proved emphatically wrong. Really. I'm not going to start slimming for those cartwheels yet though. After all, I worked for the BBC for many years, and though I admire the corporation it is not a great breaker of controversial stories. It prefers to leave that to dirty, commercial journalism. After all, if you upset too many people they stop backing the licence fee. Remember what happened to Andrew Gilligan?      

As Pink Floyd once described Money: "Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash." Not much has changed since that song was released by Dave Gilmour and co. in 1973 and neither has the megalomania, megabucks mentalities of moguls and businessmen since. If Lehman Brothers bankers take bonuses and take all of what they want (and can't really have), then why should any other profession be any different? Commerce without a conscience prevailed there, that's for sure. I am intrigued to see how this new journalism idea proposed in the article will work however. The world, as far as I know (which is perhaps short-sighted :( ) revolves mainly around money, promotions and greed. So we'll see if journalism can survive this commercial model, which I believe with us lot of uni student hacks, it bloody well will.

Profit v conscience