Shop Notes

Nonprofit news groups preserve those first drafts of history

Posted: March 14, 2011 | Tags: journalism-ecosystem

Nonprofit online news organizations may eventually take over the community information function traditionally provided by newspapers, said Phil Meyer, an advisory board member for the Investigative Reporting Workshop.

In an interview with Sara Brown on the “Who Needs Newspapers?” website, Meyer said that if private enterprise will not be responsible for “preserving the first rough draft of history,” then charitable foundations would have to do it.  

Meyer pointed to Executive Editor Charles Lewis’ new journalism ecosystem as a census of 60 nonprofits currently working in online media. 

“One of my tasks before I give my next out-of-town lecture is going to be to organize that data and to see what methods they are using to ensure sticking to the traditional values of journalism, what different kind of control systems they have for managing it, and I think that will help us figure out where things are going,” said Meyer.

At the recent IRE and NICAR conference attended by the Workshop staff, Meyer spoke on panels including Don’t let the data fool you and Building on CAR's legacy. He is Professor Emeritus in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the author or co-author of several books, including his Precision Journalism (1973), listed by Journalism Quarterly as one of the 35 significant books of the 20th century on journalism and mass communication. His most recent book is The Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism in the Information Age, published in 2004 and updated in 2009.

In the interview, Meyer said it is difficult to persuade publishers to invest in the long-term benefits of high-quality journalism over short-term profits in a declining industry. For editors to be successful in the digital age of journalism, they must find publishers willing to experiment and pay for high-quality journalism.

“I don’t think the solution will come from the existing newspaper business,” Meyer said. “It’ll come from entrepreneurs coming out of left field with wild ideas that will work.”

The future of journalism is in the hands of publishers and how much they are willing to invest. Meyer said that his is afraid the answer for most publishers is “not so much.”

Technological innovations, such as flexible electronic paper developed by an MIT lab decades ago, could drive down technology costs and make the difference between print and digital obsolete. 

“The problem with the current electronic media is that they are too precious,” Meyer said. “They still cost too much. You wouldn’t want to leave one on the bus.”

“Who Needs Newspapers?” is a national project creating a website database of leading community newspapers by focusing on one paper for each of the 50 states. To see the complete interview, go to the Who Needs Newspapers? At:

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