Do journalists have enough time for trust?

Steve Outing’s was representative of the reactions to my proposal, which is just a deepening and an extension of Mitch Ratcliffe’s idea:

I’ve thought about that idea too, but I can’t [get] past the problem of the journalists you (reader/user) want to interact with will mostly be too busy to participate. Some do interact, but it’s more because they want to and feel some passion for engaging directly with their fans and followers and readers. Many journalists I know resist the idea because they’re “already too busy.” (Bad attitude, IMO, but not easy to change.)

At one level, Steve is obviously correct: no one wants more work, and to the extent that my proposal involves interaction between the journalist and the user, there’s more work. Fine. No one’s arguing that it wouldn’t be different, unfamiliar, tough, risky, etc.

But at another level, the journalist would be paid, potentially a big chunk of his income, by offering special access to some users. Is it really the case that journalists think of themselves as so busy that they can’t imagine a (potentially very) different way of doing business?

The actually good argument one might offer against my proposal is this: “Look, journalists only have so many hours in the day. Users will pay them for some things that don’t require additional work, but users will also expect some of their time directly. That means a journalist either loses sleep or has to cut back on reporting. Lost sleep isn’t an option. And although cutting back on reporting might seem plausible, it’s really not, because it would dilute the other side of reporters’ value proposition to their users so much that their users wouldn’t really want to pay enough anymore. The market’s just not there.”

Of course, I happen not to think that argument has much purchase. Arguing about how busy with reporting journalists are now fails to locate my proposition in the relevant context, which could look more or less radically different from now. (It all about the counterfactual conditional.)

The amount of reporting per journalist might decrease, but that’s not a reason in itself that the aggregate amount of reporting would decrease. There could simply be more reporters! So if the average reporter had to reallocate twenty percent of her time to reader interaction, a twenty-five percent increase in reporters would fill the gap.

Of course, the whole proposition is that there’s a real human value proposition, trust between creator and user, that Kachingle’s kind of charity simply lacks. So while it’s certainly true that my proposition would be a big flop in the market if it turned out that users were only willing to pay creators for interaction that amounted to BFFs, which would prevent creators from actually creating, it’s not at all clear that users wouldn’t tolerate somewhat less reporting in order for access to and some connection with creators, especially in light of the fact that trust is sorely lacking between journalists and readers today.

The upside to a bit less reporting and a bit more trust-building is that society as a whole might have more regard for journalism. The hope is that journalism experiences a net gain in readership and mindshare.

PS. This post is repurposed from a comment left at Steve Outing’s further thoughts on Kachingle and voluntary monthly content payments, which he does not want you or Alan Mutter to compare to a tip jar. That comment is awaiting moderation at the time this post is being published.


2 Responses to “Do journalists have enough time for trust?”

  1. 1 Mitch Ratcliffe 2009 February 18 at 5:27 am

    Another really good posting! I think the issue of dedicating time to relationships with readers is one that will work itself out through competition. Those journalists who are “too busy” will find themselves with fewer readers and the reputation of being more closely tied to the people they cover than the people on whose behalf they cover the news.

    Sometimes, talking with the community they serve will yield a lot better ideas for stories than listening to the staged statements of a politician, company or insider source. At others, using the audience’s participation to create leverage with sources and potential interview subjects could become invaluable to a working journalist. When was the last time a Congressperson received 500 emails demanding she sit down with a journalist to answer constituents’ questions? In this world, that could happen.

    Relationships can be built very efficiently with the tools at hand, as this piece by Steve Rubel illustrates:

    The challenge to developers of a system like Kachingle or a model like the one I described in my blog is to make those tools work together more easily, in addition to simply delivering a payment fulfillment system, so the journalist can focus on mastering the facts and story more than the wide range of media in which they communicate with their community.

  2. 2 Joshua Young 2009 February 18 at 4:16 pm

    Terrific points all around. I love it when Rubel focuses his considerable insight and writes about something genuinely creative and forward-looking.

    Journalists should be thinking not only about whether there are users whose passion could benefit them as leverage with sources and interview subjects, but also about whether there are users whose expertise could very simply help inform their reporting. Josh Marshall strikes me as a really strong candidate for both. He’s already wildly enterprising. I’d think he could develop a space and a set of tools–for interaction, collaboration, payment fulfillment, and more–that would bring together the most passionate and knowledgeable users in his already incredible community.

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