Framing Document

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Supporting International, Investigative and In-Depth Reporting in the New Media Environment

Framing Document • Roundtable Participants • Roundtable Agenda • Examples• Background Materials

How to Support Investigative Journalism and International Reporting in the Age of Digital Media

Draft Background for a Roundtable Discussion July 24, 2008

The world of journalism in the United States is changing rapidly. Print publications find themselves facing declining readership and plunging margins; news programs on both commercial and public broadcasters are scrambling to produce online content to hold onto their traditional audiences. This accelerating disintegration of traditional business models threatens the ability of these media to continue their public interest functions. And while the explosion of participatory media has brought voices from all over the world online, these new media don’t have the financial and human resources to take up key journalistic functions. This roundtable discussion will address the question of how two specific kinds of reporting, investigative journalism and in-depth coverage of foreign countries, might be strengthened within the evolving media environment in the United States.

For the purposes of a focused and productive discussion, we propose for participants to accept as already proven and requiring no further discussion the following:

  • Serious investigative and international reporting are vital components of the media environment needed to support democracy -- worth doing even if not directly profitable;
  • Such reporting is expensive to do well, and difficult to sustain amid budget-cutting at traditional media outlets;
  • As cost-cutting and restructuring continues across the media sector, there is an increasing need for alternative ways to support international and investigative reporting; and
  • “Bloggers vs. Journalists” is over: neither traditional media nor the blogosphere as we know it will resolve these issues alone, the discussion is about how to make use of the best of professional and participatory media.

Interventions to increase the amount of such reporting that reaches substantial audiences might involve:

  • supporting or stimulating original reporting, when the desired reporting isn’t happening at all (i.e., some issues are ignored entirely, some remote or dangerous countries/regions have no reliable reporting at all)
  • helping reporting that is already being done in some way to reach a larger audience via traditional media or otherwise. The latter might involve translating, co-reporting, re-packaging, etc.
  • tapping the knowledge and authority of journalism's "former audience" -- that is, people who can participate more directly in the news-gathering process.

The organizations or mechanisms that make this happen might be not-for-profit or commercial, new or already existing, small or large; they may be networks of groups or individuals, or ephemeral or virtual associations. They may supported by advertising, subscription, licensing fees, grants, sales of ancillary products and services or a combination of any of these. The discussion will be open to all creative ideas; some avenues to consider include:

  • complementary businesses that could cross-subsidize a reporting enterprise, recognizing that digital technologies and services tend to wring out the very kinds of inefficiencies that allow for such cross-subsidization
  • methods to create, package and distribute reporting to the traditional media in ways that would lower the cost and/or increase the value such that the enterprise could be sustained
  • ways to stimulate interest and/or facilitate cooperation among existing media for investigative/international reporting (awards, industry associations, consumer campaigns?)
  • re-programming existing public funding for public broadcasting
  • co-funding mechanisms that allow for non-media funding sources (corporations, non-profits, foundations individuals) to support reporting without compromising (or appearing to compromise) editorial independence

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Framing Document • Roundtable Participants • Roundtable Agenda • Examples• Background Materials