Launching Facts and Opinions made one thing clear: as well as a boutique media outlet, our collection of journalists now owns a digital startup. On some level we knew that from the get-go. But it really only hit me as, under crushing deadlines, we raced to courier necessary paper documents across continents, time zones and legal jurisdictions for a small, employee-owned business that lives solely on the Internet.
And F&O does now live, astride old and new worlds, and entering new territory. We began our second week having had the pleasure of meeting thousands of visitors to our free Open House. Thank you, to all who came by! Our paywall is now up, and our real test begins: will enough people value our work enough to pay a buck for a site Day Pass – or take out a longer subscription at an introductory price that costs less than a cup of coffee?
Largely, that will depend on the quality of our work. For a mere $1 day pass, come in and judge for yourself. New pieces this week include the Magazine feature Canada’s Mayor, in which writer Brian Brennan profiles Naheed Nenshi, “the self-styled brown guy” who is the political star of North America’s conservative, white-bread energy capital. In Commentary, international analyst Jonathan Manthorpe adds two new columns to an impressive roster of his original work: in one piece, he explains why China cannot avoid political reform; in the other, he examines the increasing isolation of Israel as icy relations warm between America and Iran. Author and journalist Chris Wood, who writes Facts and Opinions’ Natural Security column, explains his reasoning behind his headline: “Give disaster a chance.”
These pieces are only available behind our paywall because we journalists do, of course, wish to be compensated for hard work and, like everyone else, we need to make a living. But just as importantly, our paywall is crucial to our mission of providing journalism for people. That is a fundamentally different thing than providing journalism for advertisers – the familiar model of using stories as bait to attract people, then selling your attention to advertisers. Facts and Opinions does not rely for sustenance on advertising: we will live or die on our paywall, your patronage, and whether our copyright is upheld.
We also chose a collaborative model – each contributor is an independent, entrepreneurial partner who will reap the financial rewards of their work, after we pay site overhead expenses.
We set out to build Facts and Opinions after many years of thinking about, and watching, the old media models sink deeper into crisis mode throughout most of the Western world. Newsrooms have been cleared out, foreign and legislative bureaus have been shuttered, media companies have gone bankrupt, and many of the surviving outlets have consolidated under ownership by corporations or wealthy individuals, who may or may not have a stake in actual journalism. A few excellent outlets do persist, and do manage the tricky balance of providing journalism to citizens while serving their advertisers. But after 30+ years in this business, in which I’ve had the privilege of working for some of the best news outlets in the world, and shared with my editors and colleagues the extreme distress of watching them wane, I’m convinced that journalism would best be served if professional journalists control, and preferably own, the outlets for our work.
These days I’m an optimist again – though I do know the challenges well: for a few years F&O partner Greg Locke and I ran a web site devoted to journalism issues that drew as many as 80,000 readers a month. Greg, a web developer as well as a world-class photojournalist, kept telling me journalism was dead, and said I should go open a “bead shop.” But journalism matters, a very great deal: evidence-based and inspired information is a public good, essential to human flourishing and to democratic citizenship. There’s cause for hope in the past year or so, as digital media seems finally to have evolved: the clamour for fake “free” material has subsided; prosecution has occurred for thefts of copyright digital work; subscription revenues at last exceeded advertising revenues at a few superb outlets with paywalls. And so we decided to launch a journalism storefront. It’s owned, of course, by our new company: Bead Shop Media.
Copyright © 2013 Deborah Jones
Deborah Jones can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org