Panel: Where’s the money (for journalism)?

E.B. Boyd covers the Journalism Innovations II conference in San Francisco ahead of the launch of mediabistro.com’s newest blog BayNewser—Coming May 11.

You can’t have a conference on innovation in journalism today without a panel on money. Yesterday’s panel presented some new business models, but anyone hoping for a silver bullet for the newspaper industry left empty-handed.

The panel included David Cohn of crowd-funded journalism site spot.us, Hal Plotkin of crowd-funded documentary site ReelChanges.org, Cynthia Typaldos of an innovative content-funding platform called Kachingle, Bill Densmore of the Media Giraffe Project, and fiscal sponsorship consultant Yesenia Sanchez. It was moderated by Tom Murphy who thought up CBS MarketWatch and founded RedwoodAge.com.

Spot.us and ReelChanges.org both rely on private individuals to pledge money to individual reporting projects. Fiscal sponsorship, long used in the arts world, involves connecting with a non-profit who acts as an umbrella for projects too small to support their own infrastructure. Kachingle offers an intriguing model for distributing users’ money to the sites they visit, but, as Typaldos said, it probably couldn’t sustain something as large as the New York Times.

Click continued to see why VCs aren’t the answer.


One member of the audience posed the so-called million dollar question: How come at a conference on the current state of journalism, there weren’t any money people on the panels (and so few in the audience)?

In truth, one investor—Warren Hellman of the private equity firm Hellman & Friedman, who’s been involved in discussions about the endangered San Francico Chronicle—had been scheduled to speak on an earlier panel, but had to cancel at the last minute. Still, there was a notable dearth of people from the business side in the house.

Densmore burst the bubble of anyone still thinking venture capitalists might swoop in and save journalism. He told of a recent flight where his seatmate turned out to be a venture investor.

“I spent almost the whole hour and a half talking with him about this challenge of how to fund [a particular journalism project]. At the end of an hour and a half, he was very patient and asked lots of good questions and basically he said, ‘You’re not going to get anybody in the venture capital world to invest in that thing if you aren’t intending it to be a stock company for which there can be an exit strategy in two or three years where people make a lot of money. Just forget it.'”

“Other people have told me the same thing,” Densmore said, “so the conclusion I’ve reached is that we have to go out and find a whole new class of investors. I believe they’re out there, but they’re not running venture capital firms.”

Cohn chimed in that journalists have to stop talking among themselves. “We have to bring people from the advertising world in here as well,” he said. “We need to have better conversations with people who are experts in fields outside of editorial.”

Also during the panel, Murphy gave a prediction about when he thinks the future of journalism will arrive:

“We’re in a moment I like to call the Big Bang. We’ve seen this contraction, and now we’re seeing an explosion as new media comes out. It’s a turbulent time. It’ll take about 25 years to get through this period. We’re about 15 years into it. It started in 1994, and it’s going to be about 10 years before we sort all this out.”

“But,” he added for those who might have started reaching for law school applications during his previous comments, “it’s also an incredible time to launch new models and to make things happen.”