Monday, August 31, 2009

What investigative journalism costs

Mother Jones asked the New York Times to provide a cost breakdown of the major investigative piece in the magazine this past weekend, done in collaboration with ProPublica:
  • 2 years of reporting by a staff writer, full-time: 200k
  • Editing for that period by 2 ProPublica editors: 30k
  • Lawyering hours at ProPublica: 20K
  • Editing hours at the Times magazine over past year (from me to copy editors, 5 editors in all involved): 40k
  • Times fact-checking: 10k
  • Photography fees plus expenses: 40k
  • Times lawyering fees: 20k
  • Web and Web graphic costs at both the Times and ProPublica: 10k
  • Cost of adding 6 pages to the feature well to accommodate story: 24k
Total: 394k


Sure, information wants to be free;
unfortunately, it's not

In their editors' note in Mother Jones magazine's September /October issue, co-editors Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffrey articulate their scepticism about the belief that, in future, journalism will be free. We liked it enough to reprint the piece. Most of what they say applies equally well in Canada.
In our business, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting some expert waxing on about what ails journalism and how to fix it. Gratingly, many of those who tout prescriptions are the same people who let the patient get critical. And the new-media pundits whose analysis was fresh five years ago now feel like a Greek chorus that won't shut up after the curtain's down and the seats are empty. (Or, to retweet @theatavist, a.k.a. writer Evan Ratliff: "Maybe the future of journalism is just an endless vacillating din of banal bluster and whinging about the future of journalism.") We'll save you the agony; here's the Masterplots version:
  1. In the first half of 2009, 123 TV news shows were canceled, 106 newspapers folded, 110 bureaus closed, 556 magazines died, and 12,000 journalists lost their jobs. These numbers are likely to get much worse.
  2. The old model, where journalism was heavily subsidized by advertising, is over. The recession has made the divorce faster and more acrimonious, but the knives were already out. And online advertising is turning out to be a harsh mistress. Consider: Even as the readership grew 7 percent last year, online ad sales began dropping. As for the big online-only shops, they either lose money, are subsidized by parent companies, or feed off venture capital.
  3. Overpaid anchors; if it bleeds, it leads; papers that acted omniscient but practiced omission—the MSM's bad apples and bad practices, combined with industry upheaval and the stench of WMDgate, created a mood so toxic that even four years after Judy Miller's downfall, cheers seem to go up every time a reporter loses a job. That most journalists toil on for the public good—despite long hours, generally low pay, and a terribly bleak future—gets lost.
  4. Love The Daily Show, HuffPost, All Things Considered, Kevin Drum? We do, too, but much of what you're consuming is built from reporting (read: going to places, talking to people, and digging through documents) done elsewhere. Or as Rachel Maddow said at her MoJo fundraiser in April, "Without the David Corns of the world, there is no show. [MoJo DC bureau chief] David Corn can do his job without me, but I can't do my job without him."
  5. Reporting takes money. Duh. Yet we keep hearing that "journalism will survive the death of its institutions," so allow us to point out: not if that means the end of its resources. Indie bloggers, citizen journalists, pro-am reporting have dramatically expanded the public debate. But in the end, if there is 50 or 30 or 20 percent as much money being spent paying people to do consistent, reliable reporting, we'll have a corresponding reduction in consistent, reliable reporting. Not to mention fact-checking, editing, and presentation. (Want to see the first drafts of our investigative pieces? Trust us, no.)
  6. Anyone who claims to know where to get the money should be locked in a room and forced to read blogger Jim Romenesko's entire death-of-media archives. Advertising? Less and less. Online subscriptions? Sure—but how many of the New York Times' remaining 550,000 daily print subscribers will pay the same $770 for a digital product? Bringing back paywalls? Expect it to happen, but whether it'll work...
  7. So what about these big, nonprofit save-journalism projects we've heard so much about? We did a back-of-the-envelope tally of the marquee ones—ProPublica, HuffPost's I-team, Knight Foundation grants, etc. Including multiyear grants, and even padding the reported amounts substantially, we're talking $100 million. That's not even half what it takes to run the New York Times' news-gathering operation for a year. Part of the problem is that—take it from a nonprofit journalism shop with 34 years' experience—institutional funders for media are few, generally cautious, and (with some laudable exceptions) lacking in transparency. And as bad as it is for national operations, the problems become more pronounced for local muckrakers: Just try to raise money for investigative reporting from the Chamber of Commerce crowd.

So where does that leave us? All the honest pundits will give you the same answer: No &$#@ing idea. We may well end up with a society that simply doesn't have the quantity and quality of journalism we've enjoyed. Other countries don't; though those that run well also have functioning regulatory systems and raucous, diverse, parliamentary oppositions—not our two-party compromise machine.

But before we resign ourselves to whinging and vacillating, let's try to rewrite this tragedy. Many Mother Jones readers already help by writing checks beyond the price of a subscription; it's those checks­ that pay for our reporters and earn the attention of the Times and others who have spotlighted our reader-supported model as one promising avenue for journalism.

What it's going to take is for many more Americans to decide that quality reporting—be it on local school boards or Iraq or climate negotiations—is as vital to their lives as box scores and celebrity spats. As media theorist Clay Shirky recently wrote, "Journalism is about more than dissemination of news; it's about the creation of shared awareness," and ultimately the ability to act on that awareness. Because make no mistake: This is a zero-sum equation. Less journalism = less accountability. Corruption, nepotism, cronyism, and propaganda thrive when reporting dies. That's not a price we're prepared to pay.

Today's Parent founder one of directors swept out of Ontario lottery corp

The founder of Today's Parent magazine and the Today's Parent Group, Beverly Topping, is one of the six directors of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) swept out of their positions today. The CEO of OLG, Kelly McDougald was also fired from her $400,000 position "with cause", according to a story in the Toronto Star.

The Ontario Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty is attempting by the dramatic move to head off a scandal as opposition parties are due to receive the results of a freedom-of-information request into OLG expenses.

According to the Star story, finance minister Dwight Duncan released the expenses data at the same time as announcing the purge.
Some of the flagged expenses show OLG members dinged taxpayers for such items as a $7.70 pen refill, the $1,000 cancellation of a deposit on a Florida condo due to work requirements, a $1.12 cloth grocery bag and a $30 car wash claim submitted without a receipt. Also expensed was $487.50 for a nanny to be paid so a worker could attend meetings from September 2006 to December 2006 - while no receipts were handed in, this expense was repaid.
Topping is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Institute of Corporate Directors. She created, built and sold Today's Parent Group to Rogers Publishing. At one time it consisted of 15 separate magazines and line extensions, two television series and the largest family database in Canada. She spent nine years as a director of Canada Trust and CT Financial, and eight years as a Director of Cara Operations (until its 2004 privatization). She is also a director for the Institute of Child Study and the Toronto International Film Festival Group.

Canadian magazine subs and singles seem to be starting to stabilize

[This post has been updated] The latest Audit Bureau of Circulations' latest data, for the first half of 2009, shows a decline in single copy sales, but a much smaller decline than the same period a year ago. According to a story in Media in Canada, overall paid and verified circulation was down 1.58% (paid subs down just 0.3% and total single copy sales down 8.43%)
Although the drop in single-copy sales is significant, it is not nearly as steep as the 23.63% decline seen in 2008 (as compared to the same reporting period in 2007). Paid subscriptions looked even better, the 0.3% drop over 2008 figures is minute compared to the 4.78% drop reported in second half of 2008.
Among the magazines that had significant growth:
  • Hello! saw a single-copy sales climb of 14.5% and a paid subscription increase of 161.2%.
  • Fashion magazine saw paid subscriptions up 18.9%.
  • Canadian Living subscriptions and single-copy sales were both up over 2%
  • Flare's single-copy and subscription sales rose 6.1% and 8.4% respectively.
Two of the biggest drops in paid subscriptions were What's Up with a drop of 42.5% and The Beaver dropping 17.3%.

In single-copy sales, there were some significant drops at Canadian Geographic (24.3%), Elle Canada (21.9%) Outdoor Canada (27.2%), What's Up (71.3%) and Profit magazine, which saw a whopping 89.2% decline. Increases in single-copy sales could be found at Chatelaine (36.5%), Maclean's (2.1%) and Canadian Business (14.1%).

[UPDATE: Here are the data on the top 45 magazines reported in the ABC Fas-Fax, as reported in Mastheadonline.

Paid & Verified Subs Single Copy Total Paid & Verified Subs +/- Single Copy +/- Total Paid & Verified +/-
Reader's Digest 813,824 37,272 851,096 -3.1% -18.1% -3.8%
Chatelaine 485,231 66,640 551,871 -3.9% +36.5% -0.3%
Canadian Living 397,498 119,200 516,698 +2.6% -2.7% +1.3%
Maclean's 345,531 9,523 355,054 -1.8% +2.1% -1.7%
Style at Home 179,168 51,047 230,215 +1.5% -0.2% +1.2%
Canadian House & Home 169,127 58,098 227,225 -3.2% -14% -6.2%
Sélection du Reader's Digest 218,045 9,126 205,801 -4.1% -17.6% -4.7%
Coup de Pouce 172,056 33,745 204,611 -2.4% -13.4% -4.4%
Canadian Geographic 192,343 12,268 195,306 +2.1% -24.3% N/A
Oxygen Women's Fitness 96,473 98,833 193,198 +25.7% -0.8% +10.7%
Châtelaine 173,036 20,162 169,006 -1.2% +2.7% -0.8%
L'actualité 162,098 6,908 161,638 -1.8% +5.2% -1.5%
Clean Eating 61,652 99,986 147,347 +135% -25.8% +0.4%
LouLou 127,042 20,305 143,368 +7.7% +18.3% +9%
Fashion 134,882 8,486 142,912 +16% +4.5% +15.3%
Canadian Gardening 125,036 17,876 142,498 -6.8% +12.4% -4.7%
Flare 129,615 12,883 140,418 +8.6% +6.1 +8.4%
More 119,671 20,747 136,392 +1.4% -8.9% -0.2%
Good Times 136,392 N/A 135,980 -4.9% N/A -4.9%
Le Bel Âge 132,733 3,247 132,368 +0.8% -31.50% -0.40%
Today's Parent 125,669 6,699 128,681 -0.7% -19.7% -1.8%
Elle Canada 102,993 25,688 123,629 +5.6% -21.9% -1.3%
Best Health 107,538 16,091 120,257 N/A N/A N/A
Harrowsmith Country Life 108,662 11,595 108,991 -3.9% +11.8% -2.6%
Hello! 40,994 67,997 106,786 +161.2% +14.5% +45.1%
MoneySense 93,053 13,733 100,077 +1.4% +4.3% +1.8%
Canadian Home Workshop 95,232 4,845 98,138 -5.6% -35.9% -7.7%
TV Hebdo 59,764 38,374 95,529 -8.7% -9.3% -9%
The Hockey News 84,735 10,794 90,633 +6.1% -0.3% +5.4%
Outdoor Canada 82,868 7,765 90,520 +4.3% -27.2% +0.6%
Toronto Life 79,668 10,852 89,969 -0.1% -7.4% -1.1%
Canadian Business 85,865 4,104 89,004 +15.2% +4.3% +14.7%
American Curves 34,344 54,660 85,491 +15.3% -28.9% -16.5%
7 Jours 1,674 83,817 82,437 -15.7% -3.8% -4.1%
Décormag 76,099 6,338 80,626 -1% -28.8% -3.9%
Affaires Plus 79,512 1,114 80,526 -2.6% -17.3% -2.8%
Elle Québec 64,573 15,953 78,102 -1.9% -29.1% -8.9%
Les Affaires 76,635 1,467 76,118 -1% -17.4% -1.4%
Décoration Chez-Soi 55,650 20,468 75,784 -5.8% -8.3% -6.4%
Vita 63,215 12,569 68,909 N/A N/A N/A
LouLou (French) 52,517 16,392 64,643 -1.5% +5.1% N/A
Clin d'Oeil 45,589 19,054 64,163 -7.9% -5% -7%
Les idées de ma maison 49,297 14,866 63,128 -3.3% -15.5% -6.40%
Fleures Plantes Jardins 57,606 5,522 58,075 -1.5% -38.4% -6.4%
La Semaine N/A 58,075 52,409 N/A +6.1% +4.2%

Labels: , , ,