‘They write us checks because they love us’

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Well, I did it. I bought a new suitcase. It is yellow and BIG. I call it ‘Big Bird’.

Of course, this blog is not about that. Is just that I bought a new suitcase so I can take with me brochures, magazines and ‘stuff’ I have collected along this amazing six weeks. I can-t take it all with me, so I started thinking of each visit and I remembered this guy in Minnesota… and what he said.

‘They write us checks because they love us’. That’s what he said. He said it like that, like it was normal. And I remember that, back in one of our first visits in the Twin Cities, I thought the guy from MPR was an anomaly.

Well, he’s not. Not just him. Or better:  We are talking about a much bigger anomaly.

‘Cause ‘they’ give money to the guys in MinPost as well. AND to the guys in ProPublica. Hell, the widow of a fast-food tycoon left NPR –in her will- 250 MILLION dollars.

It’s not a bad thing, of course. In fact, I think is a great thing. It keeps some fine newsrooms working. It keeps great products on air, or online. It is just that I have no use for that sort of lesson. And I want to be clear: it is a problem of my country, not this one, that I cannot find so many millionaires or that the ones I can find would laugh in my face if I suggest they could just give money to a newspaper, or a radio station or a news site.

Tis is not a new idea. It’s called Non-Profit Journalism. Some people think it could very much save the print industry if advertisement keeps going away online. On one hand, it keeps media away of the hassle of answering to an owner over the ever-present need to make a profit. But on the other, it keeps them under the ever-present need of getting donations and/or grants.

Regardless of that, the results can be amazing. Just see any Frontline film, or listen to ‘All Things Considered’, or visit the ProPublica ‘cheap’ headquarters in Wall St.

I have to say: I celebrate this type of projects, and wish them well. Maybe the lesson is that you should make sure your public does love you. But I’ll stick, any day, to the one we saw in Politico. They found an audience, a group of people, very interested in high quality political coverage and analysis. And they gave it to them… for free! Then, they found advertisers interested in reaching exactly that audience, that group of people. That’s where they get the money from. And because they are such an effective channel to reach from congressmen to lobbyist, they are not dependent on any single advertiser… so far.

They are not a perfect media. I don’t think there is such thing. But they are doing their thing. It’s like the band in the Titanic, if they go down, at least they’ll do so playing their own music.

My point, because I have a point, is that is a very dangerous time for journalism, and we face the challenge of not only finding a way out but doing it in a way that is consistent with the idea of an independent, free press. I like to see them taking their odds against market predictions, and competition, and pressure, and managing to do journalism, just old fashioned journalism, along the way. Journalists covering political campaigns for Politico always carry a video camera and journalists are encouraged to promote their work in social networks, blogs or elsewhere.

Those are lessons I can pack in my shining brand new yellow suitcase. 

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