Monday, September 10, 2012

Innovation in Journalism Goes Begging for Support

David Carr’s excellent report on the last-ditch attempt to fund Homicide Watch through a Kickstarter campaign contains some important and thought-provoking observations about the state of philanthropic funding in the world of journalism.

I thought about Homicide Watch when I read Alan D. Mutter’s recent post about the big chunks of financing that are going to tiny experimental outfits named The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times. In May, the Ford Foundation gave The Times $1 million over two years to hire five reporters to cover ethnic and prison issues even though the paper is owned by the Tribune Company, which may be in bankruptcy but has amassed nearly $2.4 billion in cash during its three and a half years in court.

In July, the foundation awarded The Washington Post $500,000 for government accountability reporting.

The numbers are staggering in comparison to the modest $40,000 goal to fund another year of homicide coverage in Washington. Carr agreed:

Shouldn’t financing meant for journalistic innovation go to the green shoots like Homicide Watch and not be used to fertilize giant dead-tree media? I am all for putting more reporting boots on the ground, but the existential dilemma confronting media will require new answers, not stopgap funds for legacy approaches.

Late Sunday evening the Homicide Watch campaign reached its goal with three days left on the clock and nearly $1,000 in additional contributions. I am thrilled for my friends, and so relieved that a broad coalition of supporters recognized the value of Laura and Chris’ work in a community severely underserved on this important beat.

Difficult questions remain, though, when successful bootstrapped journalism startups lose out to legacy news operations in the hunt for foundational giving.