CJR Panel: Is Web Journalism Profitable?

Yesterday, the Columbia Journalism Review held a conference entitled “Beyond the Newsroom: Traditional journalistic skills in a nontraditional world” with panelists Michael Calderone from Politico, David Banks of Civic Venture and Encore.org), New School professor and former Associated Press correspondent Clara Hemphill, Charles Sennott of The Global Post and Paul Steiger of ProPublica.

So with these veteran reporters speaking about new media endeavors, did anyone produce a new perspective on web journalism or its potential lucrativeness?

If anything, the panel dodged entirely around the question of how to make money off of Internet journalism. Though touting the pros of foreign reporting on the Web (quicker for stories to go through the wire then go to print, but is that news to anyone?), the majority of speakers remained cagey about any paying jobs in the field. Calderone even spoke of a business model that seemed contrary to Politico’s online success.

“We have a print version of Politico that we have a partnership with Starbucks on,” the political blogger said. And advertising money is still to be found in that field, apparently. The moderator quickly pointed out that these were mainly advocacy advertisements, since Politico is read by a lot of D.C. types. Why these ads couldn’t just as easily be given space on the Web was not addressed.

Meanwhile, Hemphill talked about her days after being a foreign correspondent in Rome, where her expertise was Vatican-related. Back to the States however, she found it hard to find work, and scrapped together a business with fellowship money and handouts (a workspace here, a title there) from non-profit organizations.

And here we get to what was most illuminating about this specific panel: while the panelists ostensibly were there to talk about their transitions from traditional journalism into new careers, they instead spoke mainly of the glory days of print journalism and war correspondence, and then quickly segued into praise for non-profits.

It may have been because of the time limit (the conference was only slated for an hour, not leaving much time for a Q &A), but the result was disjointed and left us feeling a bit lost. An interesting question was raised in Calderone’s statement about a print Politico: We’ve seen all major publishers in the last several years grapple with putting their magazines online and try to navigate the advertising field towards the Web, but is there actually a profit to be made in turning blogs into paper?