Mar 05 2012

Real Journalism is Alive and Kicking

A group called Matter  has illuminated a fascinating fact about journalism in our time this week.
The San Francisco based group has posted a project on kickstarter.com, a website which enables entrepreneurs to raise money from the public.
Matter asked to raise $50,000 for publishing a weekly “single piece of top-tier long-form journalism about big issues in technology and science. That means no cheap reviews, no snarky opinion pieces, no top ten lists. Just one unmissable story”.

The group explains that proper in-depth investigative journalism costs money, which is why media is constantly cutting down on it. They “developed a way to support independent, global, in-depth reporting about science and technology, two subjects that are close to our hearts. We’re going to use it to build MATTER, the new home for the best journalism about the future. And we need you to help us make it happen.”
It is hard to tell what the product of Matter would look like. It would depend on the quality of the journalists they will pick and the subject they choose to research. Some of the players who feature in their promotional video are known for their involvement in serious and innovative websites such as Metafilter, Reddit and Flipboard, and the group seems to have contributors for Science, the Economist, The Guardian and other publications all known for their serious coverage of science and technology in its stable.

But one thing is clear: within 38 hours of placing their bid for funding, they’ve met their target pledge. As this blog post is being written, the public pledge stands at $105,233, and they still have 18 days to raise more.
The public gave it a loud and clear “yes” to investigative journalism, and to “stories that matter” before having been told the name of one correspondent or made aware of the content of one of the stories. And that public has pledged to put its money where its mouth is. Across the ocean, totally not connected to Matter in any way except from the mutual commitment to professional journalism, everybody at GRN had one thing to say to that: Wow.

The broadcasters and media moguls who constantly cut the budgets for investigative journalism argue that the public is not interested in the stories it invokes, and that the investment just does not justify itself.
Though often, as last year’s event at News International proved, those who want investigative journalism to die may well be those who have much to hide.
Matter’s Evan Doll says: “If the content does not exist, people should not be aware that they should be demanding it.” There’s no doubt that it is easy to sell the public rotten goods based on celebrity gossip, obvious news stories and PR statements presented as news. Then complain that the public is stupid, but is there a place in the market for an alternative to that? Matter’s fundraising success leaves some place for careful optimism.
I found Doll’s comment interesting because of an experiment we carried out at GRN three years ago. Based on a similar hunch, namely that the public wants more investigative journalism, we started a website called Global For Me (www.globalfm.com). GFM invited the public to suggest stories, or to choose between avenues of research we have put on offer, and to bid towards them. A story that would get funded, we promised, would be investigated, written and videoed by one of our leading journalists. To our surprise, the public was not responsive. To paraphrase Doll’s words – if they didn’t know about it, how could they have asked for it?
Another thing that transpires is that the public is willing to relinquish the fashionable concept of “choice” for some good old fashioned professionalism. They sniffed at GFM’s offer to choose the focus of the investigations, saying, effectively “this is your job, mate, you are the media, you tell us what’s important”.
The public wants choice but it also wants hierarchy of content and somebody trustworthy to decide what that hierarchy is. This has been shown quite clearly by the success of the websites affiliated to established newspapers compared to that of websites without an affiliation to established media.
When people really want to know what’s going on, they click on the link to the BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, or whatever their newspaper/broadcaster/website of choice may be. They don’t want to decide what to investigate, they want somebody to make an interesting call on that, conduct that research professionally, and present it to them in an attractive and gripping way.
GRN’s success and the quick fundraising victory of Matter indicate that news consumers, while embracing the technological offers of the 21st century in terms of how they get their news, are rightly reluctant to accept the bogus idea that “everybody is a journalist”. Journalism is a vocation with real and measurable professional demands, regardless of whether it is consumed on large paper sheets or viewed on a mobile phone’s screen.

The rules and ethics of it have not changed much, despite the fascinating developments of the information revolution, and an in-depth journalistic investigation can not be replaced by a press release or a citizen reporting from their balconies any more than a professional plumber can be replaced by a DIY savvy neighbour. Unless you want your radiator leaking all over your carpet.

1 ping

  1. #jpod – Crowdfunding for journalism: is it working? | Staffroom Secrets

    […] For some background reading you can see more about the launch of Emphas.is last year at this link, as well as the launch of Matter just last month. GRN has also blogged about the launch of Matter on its website. […]

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