Who Pays for Imposing Openness?

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There are two kinds of openness: the one embraced willingly, and the other that is imposed. The former comes about because, for whatever reason, people or institutions see that it is ultimately in their interests to be more open (or that by resisting transparency they only make things worse). Imposed openness requires people who get digging to find out those things that others don't want found, and to make them known anyway.

These are typically, although not exclusively, investigative journalists. At a time when there is much hand-wringing about the state of the newspaper industry, one of the principal concerns is quite naturally who will pay for in-depth reporting that requires serious resources not generally available to bloggers, for example. Maybe this will help:

The newly-formed Foundation for Investigative Reporting is launching a campaign to help secure the future of public interest reporting in the UK. We are setting up a fund that will support the kind of risky, challenging reporting for which there is a crying demand – and as an experiment to seek out new ways to support this vital work.

As recent global events like the financial collapse reveal, the demand is greater than ever for the reporters basic mission of “finding stuff out”.

We urgently need to hear from you with your thoughts, pledges of any form of support, or the sort of big idea or information about something you believe should be investigated – and isn’t.

The fund does not intend to compete directly with established media, but will instead provide the seeds from which the big story can grow. It will help provide the initial cash & support required to back journalists who want to dig into risky and difficult areas: exactly the sort of things for which it is hard to get funding.

We want to aim locally and globally – to support the sort of investigation of grassroot stories and services that is dying by the minute as local newspapers are hit hard; and to support those many stories of vital public interest in Britain that have an important international connection, particularly in the developing world, but where the costs of chasing down the truth may seem prohibitively high.

What's interesting about this idea is that it turns the traditional system, whereby publications pay journalists to go out and dig for stories, on its head, placing the journalist and the story at the centre, and the publications at the periphery. Of course, this is precisely what is happening elsewhere – in music, for example, where musicians and their music are starting to decide how and whether they will work with traditional music distribution companies.

The important point is that nobody is suggesting journalism is carried out for nothing, any more than music will be created for nothing: everybody has to eat. It it simply that the way in which money is provided, and by whom, is changing radically. And all because the Internet, with its ultra-low distribution costs, allows traditional economics – and traditional points of control – to be circumvented.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.

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