Jtm-dc-Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

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Report of Journalism That Matters Breakout session
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Fund for journalism innovation
  • Convener and recorder: Maurreen Skowran
  • Participants:
    • Cho
    • Erin Teeling
    • Paul Thomas
    • Elin Waring

We discussed the possibility of making a capital fund for innovations in journalism.

Maurreen thinks people such as those at the conference could make a test market -- if a proposal or project impresses any of us enough that we would put money into it, then that enterprise could be more likely to get financial support elsewhere, in one way or another, and go on and prosper.

This fund might serve as an incubator, such as also by helping new enterprises with business matters. We had in mind that the fund could support both for-profit and nonprofit work. But the goal would be to help work that would become sustainable, not cash drains.

We decided a primary step was to outline questions that would need to be addressed to create such a fund.


Questions

1. Who would be the target contributors? That would influence the marketing for contributions.

2. What would the structure be? Who would be in charge? For profit or not? (Note that the profit-or-not aspect might not be the same for the fund and the enterprises it would support.)

3. What is the fund's mission?

4. What would be the formula or guidelines for determining funding?

5. Who else could make money from the fund's work (such as Google or Yahoo, etc.)?

6. Who can help get this started (such as one or more people with a background in business and serious interest in journalism)?

After-conference comments

Possible leaders, advisers, helpers
  • Lauren Rich Fine, former newspaper (and Internet?) analyst for Merrill Lynch
  • John Morton, "a former newspaper reporter, is president of a consulting firm that analyzes newspapers and other media properties." Writes regular column for the American Journalism Review.
  • Jim Shaffer, dean, University of Southern Maine business school, Portland, Maine
  • Someone more digitally oriented?
  • You?
  • Others?
Profit or nonprofit?

Maurreen is leaning toward this being a profit-making enterprise, because a profit approach would broaden the means of addressing the issue:

  • It seems like other financial ideas at the conference were more oriented toward nonprofit.
  • Other current or potential opportunities (not at the conference but with a conscience) seem to be more available in the nonprofit area, such associations, foundations and other organizations. A prime example is the Knight News Challenge, which is run by a foundation.
Profit seeking, but not greedy

So then the question is how to have a profit-oriented fund that is less vulnerable to market pressure.

  • The main idea so far is to have two classes of stock. One class would have more voting power than the other. Sales of shares in the power class would be restricted. Details on how this could be set up would need to be worked out.
  • For the sake of brainstorming, maybe shares could be handled via an arrangement whereby shares would revert to the fund upon the owner's death, or at least the fund would have the first opportunity to buy the shares back.
  • The fund could have a target range of return on investment, which could include a ceiling for both itself and the operations it supports. Any profit above the ceiling would be required to be re-invested.
  • Investments would be intended for proprietors interested in the long term, not looking for acquisition.
Some possible determinants for funding
  • Novelty, disruptiveness, underserved markets
  • Sustainability
  • Civic value
Primary target market for contributors

Possibly the fund should focus on the grass roots -- individual journalists and other concerned individuals. If deep pockets wanted to do this, they could have already done so.

In-kind in two directions?

Possibly the fund might have options for in-kind contributions both to and from the fund.

Co-op?
Questions, comments, complaints, suggestions, missing information?