Great essay from Michael Schudson on the future of journalism — he’s betting on low-profit and non-profit models:

Let me take as my model the online startups that already exist, from TalkingPointsMemo to ProPublica to MinnPost, VoiceofSanDiego, St. Louis Beacon, New Haven Independent, Rustwire, and many more. They are springing up, and growing, and providing effective journalism, including original reporting, and so providing effective models for the future.

Schudson offers six reasons why this model will work:

1) Low overhead: They do not have to invest in a printing press, in paper, or in delivery trucks …  The Internet levels the playing field and nearly eliminates the established newspaper’s competitive advantage.

2) Increased productivity: The productivity of an individual journalist is enormously increased by the Internet and the personal computer … If there had been no recession and if there had been no Craigslist, newspapers would still have cut hundred and likely thousands of jobs because they could have put only the same quality product with fewer people in the newsroom.

3) Information sharing: Online operations have taken on an ethic of sharing rather than an ethic of exclusivity. Sure they want credit for their stories … But they need and use other media to get the stories out. Voiceofsandiego editors appear regularly on commercial television and public radio in San Diego to disseminate their work. It’s advertising and public service all at once.

4) Wider access: The growing availability of relevant data that make first-class journalism more accessible than ever before… Examples: www.foreignlobbying.org (built by two non-profits) and www.OpenCongress.org (formed by conservative thinktank.) … Collaboration is not only in publishing news, then, but even in constructing the data sources that become the raw material that journalists from any news organization can work with.

5) Labor of love: New online operations remind us how important is the resource of obsessive, endless, gritty enthusiasm. Nobody said you have to get rich being a journalist.  … But many worthwhile pursuits endure without a so-called business model. Artists, musicians, dramatists have been doing it for centuries. And so have some journalists, those who set up their alternative weeklies in the sixties, those who worked for political magazines or started vegetarian newsletters or pieced together a living as free-lance foreign correspondents…

6) Non-market solutions: There are non-market ways to assure the survival of worthwhile practices that the marketplace itself can no longer protect… There is no business model for a string quartet, no balance sheet for poetry that doesn’t bleed red, no income streams that can support (the arts) without philanthropic donations. There is no market solution… As with culture and the arts – the universities have and should have a growing role in supporting journalism.

Excellent points. Schudson is one of my favorite academics, by the way. Excluding, of course, any academic on my facebook friends list.