This morning we sent out our end of year fundraising appeal. You can read the full text here but the gist of it is this: The Nation is facing a significant budget shortfall, at a moment when support for investigative journalism is collapsing. The definition of "journalism," and the debate over how people get their content, who pays for it and what form it takes is changing every day. As The Nation‘s Editor, these shifts in the media landscape are fascinating. As The Nation‘s Publisher, these changes are alarming. Reporting–real, gritty, hands-on journalism–costs serious money.
That’s why we focused our appeal this year on investigative journalism, like Jeremy Scahill’s continued reporting on the role of military contractors, Aram Roston’s stunning expose about the routine bribing of the Taliban, and A.C. Thompson’s disturbing, over two-year investigation into vigilante violence in New Orleans. This is work that demands knowledgeable and demanding editors, travel budgets, outlays for research and rigorous lawyering. It is hard and expensive work.
One of the challenges The Nation faces is that the work may originate here, but readers come across it in all sorts of venues. Maybe a progressive news site like Alternet, Common Dreams or Buzzflash has linked to a piece or re-printed it in full. Perhaps CBSNews.com or NPR.org (sites with which we have some content-sharing arrangement) have re-run all or some of a piece that originated in The Nation. If we publish a big news story, a site like Huffington Post might run a one or two paragraph excerpt. This is journalism today, and many of these sites are playing critical roles in getting news out to a wider audience. We consider these sites friends, allies and partners. But the problem is that once the time comes to pay the bills, not all of their readers are aware that the initial investment was ours.
I tried to make this point in our appeal this morning, and in the process inadvertently criticized some of these valued partners. I noted that some of these sites "don’t contribute a penny" to produce the journalism that we invest in. That’s true, but my letter didn’t communicate what they do contribute. We believe sites like Buzzflash, Alternet and Common Dreams are playing a critical and important role in the political debate today, and doing a great service to their readers. They are playing a different role (that was my point) but it is an important one.
Over at Buzzflash, Mark Karlin argued passionately that we slandered them in an effort to raise money. Here’s his post. To be clear: The sites mentioned in our appeal are running our stories with our permission. There are times where a big story grips our community, and it’s exciting to see a diverse, vibrant and strong independent press sounding the alarm at a variety of sites and formats. So if our appeal denigrated Alternet, Buzzflash or Common Dreams in any way, I regret that. They are institutions worthy of your support, and we have great respect for their work.
But the cold hard fact is that as more and more sites (and social networks) draw eyeballs and traffic by aggregating news, the underpinnings that support news-gathering itself are giving way. You may have read about Aram Roston’s investigation on Twitter, or seen it summarized on HuffPo, or even re-printed in full on Alternet, but someone had to send him to Afghanistan to do the work on the ground. (Much of our investigative work is accomplished through the great work of The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, which supports much of our reporting and investigative journalism at many other independent media outlets.) The intent of our appeal was to make that case–that investigative reporting has value, especially with more newsrooms closing every day.
So if you value the ways in which sites like Buzzflash, Alternet and Common Dreams bring the news together, you should support them financially–and I hope that you will. But in this winter of our discontent, with healthcare reform crumbling and escalation in Afghanistan, we encourage you to also remember where much of the critical news reporting of the day has originated, and to support our work in any way you can.
This is still the beginning of a long and hard conversation about what journalism is becoming and how to pay for it. We appreciate your support, we regret any misunderstanding, and we appreciate the criticism and prodding from our partners in the progressive online media about how we can all rise together.