What next for writers and readers?
OK, it’s getting personal now, this shrinking of the media, this revolution in our world of writers and readers. Last week I tried to get in touch with the travel editor of a major newspaper to pitch a project. Oops, she just took a buyout. Her successor? His voicemailbox was full. A tiny symptom of what’s going.
The writers are being bought out by employers, cast off in an uninsured, freelance world.
They are being frozen out by government agencies and corporations who resent scrutiny from the skeptical.
They are losing ownership of their work as the written word migrates from the printed page to electronic impulses.
Still, it’s not easy to get rid of writers. Theirs is a passion cannot readily be bought, or frozen, or swindled away.
But writers and readers need something new. I need to think more about how to save the poor book writer, a plight I feel particularly keenly. But I have spent some time thinking and talking to smart people about the problem with the shrinking media.
We need new ways – electronic, wireless, print – to sponsor challenging reports about important events and trends. Those reports must reach a wide audience that cares about justice and fairness. And these new ways must prove economically viable.
In one part of my life, I’m taking a small hand in trying to make this better. As president of the WIW Freedom to Write Fund, I am working to start a new nonprofit journalism venture, the Writers Action Group, which will concentrate on in-depth and investigative journalism about issues that are most important to writers: (i) free expression, (ii) access to government and corporate information, and (iii) ownership of content, including copyright issues.
Non-profit journalism ventures are trying to find these new ways to gather and deliver information. The Center for Public Integrity has blazed this trail for many years. New entrants include the St. Louis Beacon and The Voice of San Diego, and the not-yet-operating Pro Publica.
FWF’s approach need not be the only answer to this critical problem. A few web-based media businesses have real journalistic ambition. Traditional media may be able to remake themselves for the new century.
This daunting challenge will not be answered with a single masterstroke. It will take many hands and many imaginations.
But FWF and the Writers Action Group aim to be part of the answer. I hope you will consider joining us in this effort. If you’d like to help — with time or money, or both — please write me.
The stakes are democracy itself.