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Report of Journalism That Matters Breakout session

Representative Journalism

Attending session: Leonard Witt, Pat Hughes, Maurreen Skowran, Sue Ellen Christian

Leonard Witt has been developing an idea he calls Representative Journalism, in which communities of people either formed around geography, interest or passion, provide the financial support to have a reporter cover their issue, while getting continuous input from that community. After all the Dan Gillmor mantra is the audience knows more than the reporter. Witt will be freely revealing the plan in installments over the next few months at PJNet.org. <http://pjnet.org/> blog.

Dale Peskin's journalism tree

In Witt’s concept, the journalist is more than just a reporter doing the “he says, she says” reporting, but also develops new knowledge from white papers to investigative reporting. Each community is built and maintained by a network weaver, who provides the community opportunities to meet on and off line to deliberate the issues as hand.

The reporter is not a booster for his or her Representative Community, but someone who fairly reports on the issues, showing all the complexities as an excellent community journalist would do. The Representative Journalism community might not always be pleased with the information provided, but must realize that it and the people outside their community will understand their issue better than if they had no Representative Journalist. Indeed, in many cases the coverage option will be to get the good, the bad, and the ugly from their Representative Journalist or not have their issue covered at all. In Representative Journalism they are paying for a bona fide reporter/information producer. Not a public relations specialist.

So the issue at hand in this session was: Would people pay up a $100 a year to help support a journalist? (If a thousand paid, it would be a $100,000 which would provide darn good coverage.)

Pat Hughes, who runs the citizen journalism site Paulding.com, says people do pay for high-end newsletters, now you would have to downsize and broaden the concept. However, he says that most people are not necessarily joiners but a few are. Might be better to use PayPal so people can pay for individual stories of interest. (Earlier at the JTM conference Holly Stocking reminded Witt that I.F. Stone had a successful model with his I.F Stone’s Weekly. According to a Neiman Report at one point he had 70,000 subscribers.)

Maureen Skowran said that idea is has some legs and other people are thinking about similar models. See for example: Corporation for Public Community Newspapers at http://www.publicnewspapers.org/

Witt says we need new economic models because he believes that eventually editorial content and advertising will diverge, leaving journalism to pay for itself. Sue Ellen Christian says we need experiments so, “Throw it against the wall and see if sticks.”

In fact, Witt will be throwing it up on his PJNet.org’s < http://pjnet.org/> Representative Journalism blog and will see if it does indeed stick.