Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Only Entrepreneurs Will Save Journalism

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Only Entrepreneurs Will Save Journalism

Article excerpt

Water. It's everywhere. If it hadn't already happened, who would think of bottling it and turning it into a business? Mother Nature seems to have a monopoly on the water business.

For most of the 20th century, no entrepreneur thought much about competing with Mother Nature. With the advent of safe and efficient municipal water supplies and chlorination, the bottled water business that thrived in the 19th century dried up before the Jazz Age.

Then, along came Perrier in 1977, at a time when yuppies worried about polluted water sources and yearned for things that seemed fresh, clean and trendy. Today, bottled water is [dollar]300 billion industry.

From A&P, Sears & Roebuck, U.S. Steel, IBM, and Microsoft, many companies once feared as monopolies suffered declines not because of government intervention, but because of competition and failures of business leaders to invest, adapt and innovate.

As journalists fret about Facebook and Google, there are periodic calls for Mark Zuckerberg or Sergey Brin to set aside just a small portion of their vast fortunes and fund journalism. These pleas are always directed at making sure journalists can keep covering news. There's never a mention of funding R&D and building new business models. Most journalists seem to have concluded, with nary a glimmer of doubt, that journalism is doomed without philanthropy.

Craig Newmark is the hero of the month because of his [dollar]6 million commitment to various journalism organizations. This is a worthy and laudable act by Newmark, but as near as I can tell, based on the list of organizations he supports, such as Poynter, the Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Public Integrity, these are all organizations focused on the content side of the business.

Journalists love these donations, but what happens when the funds diy up? The need across the nation to keep journalism functional from one generation to the next is billions of dollars bigger than charitable contributions could ever hope to sustain.

Over the past 20 years of my online news career, I've seen many praiseworthy efforts from various nonprofit organizations aimed at helping journalism deal with the challenges it faces in the era of digital disruption, but these funds have largely been funneled to content-side endeavors. Where grant funds have gone to technology and business model ideas, the amount provided has been a pittance compared to the need. …

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