Academics Cost Less Than Journalists

Quality Journalism Is Increasingly Using Academics—and Should Use Even More

Last month Brad DeLong wrote,

“The problem with the @WashingtonPost (and the @NYTimes) is that it sells itself as a trusted intermediary interested in informing you while it is actually focused on seizing your eyeballs so that it can sell them to advertisers”

It’s true that both papers have had financial problems and need eyeballs to sell to advertisers.  But Brad is being a bit unfair. Both papers produce a lot of quality journalism and I’m sure their editors would love to prioritize being a “trusted intermediary” above all else. Unfortunately, unlike Brad, who has a university salary, their journalists need to get paid. One solution is staring DeLong, one of the original academic bloggers, in the mirror: more academics producing journalism.

In fact, this past year the number of academics writing for journalistic outlets grew substantially with the founding of the UpShot at the NYT, which followed in the footsteps of WonkBlog at the Washington Post. (DeLong gave WonkBlog as an example of a trusted intermediary.) Many forces drive this trend, including an increasingly complex world needing increasingly expert analysts and academics intent on branding themselves.

But, perhaps out of politeness, no one is talking about the economic forces behind the trend. For a newspaper, academics are cheaper than journalists. And given quality journalism’s financial problems, academics are what they can afford. Continue reading

Netflix-like data to shape political reporting—Should we worry?

Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire eBay founder concerned about NSA surveillance and threats to press freedom, is creating a new news venture, to the tune of (at least) $250 million. His plan to fund investigative journalism will help bridge the gap between what a vigorous democracy needs and what current media markets can support financially.

But one feature has gotten no attention: the plan to be a “general news” venture, including sports and entertainment.   Why do that? Sports and entertainment news are doing just fine, thank you, and don’t need a billionaire ’s charity. Plus the old-fashioned full-service approach doesn’t jibe with Omidyar’s “entirely new,” legacy-free rhetoric.

In fact, the brief explanation for the full-service route, communicated in an interview Omidyar gave to Jay Rosen, raises important questions. First, Omidyar is saying, implicitly, that others’ solutions for journalism, funding the unfunded content with the likes of Pro Publica and Kaiser Health News, is seriously incomplete. Is he right? Second, Omidyar may be planning a potentially creepy use of Netflix-like personally data to shape the public interest journalism. That would be ironic, since one of his first hires is Glenn Greenwald, famous for his NSA spying scoop. Should we worry? Continue reading