Media Models: Investigative Reporters Investigate…For A Price

The Online Journalism Review reports on a not-so-new trend of investigative news outfits performing research for private interests. Why isn’t it new? Because the owners of The Economist have been doing it since 1946 through the Economist Intelligence Unit.

But on this side of the pond, David Westphal at OJR reports, this trend has been slower to catch on.

Now we have GlobalPost, a Boston-based investigative startup that allows readers to request “custom reporting.”

GlobalPost recently had its first paying customer, a client who asked for research about remittances sent back to Mexico by workers in the United States. The material hasn’t been published yet, [co-founder] Phil Balboni said, but might be at some point. This client and subsequent ones won’t be named, he said, but Balboni argued that conflicts shouldn’t be a problem because any special-order research is liable to be published eventually on the website.

I asked Balboni what research GlobalPost wouldn’t do. “We won’t accept projects if they’re serving PR or advocacy interests,” he said. “Things that are before the courts or a regulatory matter… Basically we reserve the right to reject any research request that would compromise the integrity of Global Post.”

The Boston University New England Center for Investigative Reporting also allows readers to commission reports, but the results won’t necessarily be published.

Not mentioned in the article but worth a note here: Forbes launched its custom research wing earlier this year and nabbed its first two paying customers right away.

Could this become a model for other media organizations? We’re not sure many newspapers would go for this, but guess we’ll see.