When people from foundations get together to discuss the future of the news business, the conversation typically goes in two directions. The first is whether the deeply distressed ad-supported newspaper model can replaced by something more sustaining and what role — if any — can foundations play?
The fear is that the continuing decline in traditional journalism will continue to result in a decline in the amount and quality of coverage of public interest topics. (That concern is obviously what motivated the Ford Foundation last week to make an unprecedented, two-year $1 million investment in the Los Angeles Times so the newspaper can increase coverage of immigration and ethnic communities.)
On the flip side of the discussion, conversation often turns to whether this gap in coverage similarly presents opportunities for foundations, think tanks and research organizations, especially because of the new opportunities digital media offers, to disseminate information in ways never before possible.
As Jeff Stanger, director, the Center for Digital Information, recently suggested in a Communications Network blog post:
With commercial pressures on journalism intensifying, the topics that the philanthropic sector strives to keep at the forefront of public consciousness could be among the first to be cast aside. The lack of a familiar last-mile institution of journalism presents a substantial challenge to organizations that have historically relied on that function and are still structured to navigate the old landscape. That challenge is accompanied by enormous opportunity. Unlike in past eras, social sector organizations are now in direct control of a mass communication medium, more powerful than any that preceded it, with global reach, unique capabilities and expanding potential to engage and inform. An intimidating prospect for those not accustomed to “being the media,” but a golden opportunity nonetheless.
Stanger’s suggestions were explored in more depth in a roundtable discussion held at the Council on Foundations annual conference in Los Angeles late last month. A group of communications practitioners, academics and researchers discussed how trends in digital media offer foundations, policy organizations, think tanks and others unprecedented opportunities to increase their dialogue with the public by taking their messages directly to audiences and key constituencies.
The video below is a recording of the event that was streamed live.
Watch the video (or just let in run in the background and listen to the conversation). What do you think? Are there opportunities waiting to be tapped to more deeply engage the public through direct dialogue? Leave your comments.
For additional reading on this subject, here are posts and links: