Grave new world

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Over the weekend, News & Record Editor and Publisher Jeff Gauger announced in the pages of the Sunday edition and on his blog that the paper’s arts coverage will be underwritten by ArtsGreensboro.

And while Gauger took a casual, almost bubbly tone in his online announcement, the rest of the legitimate journalism world gasped in horror.

Most of the rest of it, anyway… some were trying to figure out how to set up a gravy train like this for themselves.

There was a time that newspapers wouldn’t allow subjects to pay for coverage of themselves. It was the kind of thing that could get you kicked out of press associations and other professional groups. The ethics code of the Society of Professional Journalists eschews it: “Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.”

It’s a seismic shift in the way things have always been done around here, too. In the past, it has been the N&R that donated to artistic causes like 17 Days and the Eastern Music Festival. Now, the script has flipped.

Gauger reported that the N&R agreed to run 70 ArtsGreensboro stories over the course of the year. He declined to report just how much money Warren Buffet’s newspaper would be getting for the arrangement.

There was a time that newspapers wouldn’t allow subjects to pay for coverage of themselves.

We wonder if the deal is open to everybody. Can the civil rights museum pay for more stories about social justice? Can a restaurateur pay for more coverage of her cooking?

Gauger touts the development as a response to “changes brought to newspapers by the digital revolution and readers’ shifting habits,” one of the paper’s “new approaches to help pay for the journalism we know you want.”

It’s creative, we’ll give him that. But there’s nothing new about pay-to-play journalism.

What’s new is a seeming disdain for the editorial process at the daily covering the third-largest city in North Carolina. Besides hiring out its arts desk, the N&R has also advertised for three civilian positions on the editorial board, going against a hundred years of newspaper wisdom and denigrating the honor of the title of editor.

  • Lex

    Without commenting on the merits of the N&R/ArtsGreensboro arrangement, I think the larger issue of funding quality local news coverage merits discussion. The old business model is disintegrating, quality coverage is labor- and resource-intense and therefore expensive, and no obvious new business model has emerged.

    Steve Buttry, I believe — and the idea might not be original with him — has proposed crowdfunded beats: Let readers vote with their dollars on, say, environmental reporting or UNC basketball or what-have-you. Depending on whether you open beat selection wide to the crowdfunding public or simply offer a short list of options with the goal being to select just one, deciding what to seek funding for could be messy. But it might also, in the end, yield better coverage of an undercovered subject than is now available.

    I like your “zone defense” analogy. Not only is it a judicious use of scarce resources, it also applies to parenting. Just ask my cousin whose second child was triplets. :-)

    • Brian Clarey

      Hey Lex.
      Been using that “zone defense” thing for years. It applies to culture as it does to news.
      And I don’t know… Remember what the N&R focus groups wanted? More sports, but also less sports, and celeb news and bigger print and whatever else the lowest common denominator dictates. I think editorial decision is best left to professionals. The customer is not always right. In fact he rarely is.

      • Lex

        Having actually reviewed what the N&R focus groups wanted, I have to say they weren’t as unfocused as you suggest. I don’t, for example, remembering anyone seriously arguing for less sports coverage.

  • In case anyone wants to read the original blog post from Jeff Gauger http://www.news-record.com/news/article_8003a84a-f9b9-11e3-960a-001a4bcf6878.html

  • Jordan Green

    The ArtsGreensboro/N&R deal has prompted a robust debate among the staff at Triad City Beat. As a working journalist and part-owner of a competing newspaper, of course I can’t help but feel somewhat threatened by the deal. But I’m open to new revenue models. I’ve examined the nonprofit model and found it wanting, but maybe some kind of hybrid model might be workable. Based on the public radio example, I’m open to underwriting and membership models. I also think there might be some merit to zoned crowd-funding idea put forward by Lex and others. I believe we should maintain a baseline commitment in our areas of coverage, but if one group of readers wants to pledge dollars for arts coverage and another for government watchdog reporting, I think it would be great to have extra funding to enhance those areas.