Funding Journalism in the Digital Age: Business Models, Strategies, Issues and Trends/Vanishing Act: The Erosion of Online Footnotes and Implications for Scholarship in the Digital Age

By Thornton, Leslie-Jean | Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Funding Journalism in the Digital Age: Business Models, Strategies, Issues and Trends/Vanishing Act: The Erosion of Online Footnotes and Implications for Scholarship in the Digital Age


Thornton, Leslie-Jean, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator


* Kaye, Jeff and Stephen Quinn (2010). Funding Journalism in the Digital Age: Business Models, Strategies, Issues and Trends. New York: Peter Lang. pp. 185.

* Bugeja, Michael and Daniela V. Dimitrova (2010). Vanishing Act: The Erosion of Online Footnotes and Implications for Scholarship in the Digital Age. Duluth, MN: Litwin Books, pp. 86.

In a dazzlingly short time, our communication and research habits have dramatically changed. Thanks to technology and the Internet, we've found new ways to share, store, connect, search, and inform. In so doing, we've damaged, outgrown, or abandoned systems that supported "old" ways - as is plainly seen in the news industry's turmoil of the past decade. Some functions those old ways served, however, need protecting. These books address two such challenges. The difficulty of finding new economic underpinnings for the production of journalism has been the focus of heated attention. The need to be able to consistently retrieve what has been shared online has not. Both areas deserve explication, which the books' authors ably provide.

Anyone who has said the word "paywall" in discussions of current journalism likely knows it provokes passionate defenses and attacks. The concept - requiring people to pay for digitally distributed news - sparks broad debate over how journalism might be funded, what journalism means and should mean, who qualifies as a journalist, and journalism's role. Jeff Kaye and Stephen Quinn's book brings perspective to those rightfully touchy subjects. After all, business models that sustained huge news organizations and efforts for centuries have crumbled, the authors point out, resulting in slashed staffs and budgets, about ten U.S. newspaper closures annually, and a murky financial outlook. The "talk is of survival" (p. 1). Meanwhile, journalism has flourished "in remarkable ways - from instant global distribution to community participation and more powerful storytelling techniques" (p. 1). What hasn't changed, they note, is a long-held perception that "an informed public is an intrinsic social good" (p. 1).

While the book initially appears to view the news industry primarily as victim, it gains in context and breadth as it develops. The opening three-chapter section gives an overview of how emerging technologies and social trends affected mass distribution of news. Increased competition from a growing number of sources drew readers and viewers away from established news outlets.

Without masses being attracted in the same numbers to print newspapers and (much less known) to newscasters, advertisers found increasingly fewer reasons to buy ad space or time. Newspapers' dual-product model - selling "eyeballs" to advertisers while bringing in far less money from adnews print sales - foundered. Readers' attention was going to the web. Attempting a similar model online, however, was problematic because of strong competition from online advertisers (such as Craigslist and Google) and an interlaced web culture built on free transfer of information.

Other factors in news organizations' slow embrace of the web, the authors explain, included a risk-averse culture, an ability to maintain high profit margins through cuts to the core product, an interest in staking a claim online through quickly built readership, and poor methods for collecting secure payments. Newspapers' first forays into online journalism were in dial-up days, which were slow, frustrating, and pricey for consumers. Nevertheless, news organizations' failure to charge for content from the beginning is seen by some as "Original Sin" (p. 23).

The authors cover the 1990s dotcom boom and subsequent bust, the emergence in 2004 of Web 2.0 and social media popularity, and the global financial crisis of 2007-2008. They then explain various approaches to paid-content models including subscriptions, micropayments, and thirdparty fees. Because Kaye and Quinn built a firm foundation, it becomes understandable why news organizations would at the same time lure free "hits" through search engines, social media, reporting strategies, and distributed media of all kinds. …

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