After reading Josh Ellis’s article on what professional media is for and Ethan Zuckerman’s article on the coming collapse of advertising as a business model for newspapers, I came up with a new challenge for myself: think of 5 business models for professional media organizations, along the lines of my 5 business models for Twitter.

I decided to rule out all the “traditional” business models. I’ve been thinking about it all week and it’s a lot harder than thinking of business models for Twitter. To help me along, I’ve decided to write up the 5 primary business models for professional media, the ones I am seeking alternatives to.


I’m less pessimistic about the idea that online advertising can support professional media than Josh and Ethan. Gawker, Federated Media, etc. seem to be doing quite well for themselves. The TPM family of sites has done high quality national political reporting, and I suspect they’re doing ok financially. But what about local journalism? There’s probably plenty of money to be made in big cities, but what about small cities and smaller towns? More thoughts on this in the future.


Salon tried this and failed. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have given up on digital subscription sales. Subscriptions are a bust online. I can’t think off the top of my head of any professional print publication that sustains itself on subscriptions alone.

Public ownership

Like the BBC. Last I heard this is what Robert McChesney advocates. This is fine for somethings, I guess. But I think we’d all like to see a more rich media than what states can provide us.

Underwriting, public funds, donations, etc.

Here’s where I put most public media organizations like NPR. They receive public funds, but they are not state owned and are not solely dependent on state funds.

This is also the category I would put non-profit news media outlets that support themselves receive grants or underwriting other than public funds (such as The Christian Science Monitor, Mother Jones, and Reason) and the sort of “micropatronage” Josh Ellis has engaged in).

I think this may be the primary form serious investigative professional journalism takes in the future, especially in smaller communities. However, publications like Mother Jones and Reason do seem to take in a lot of revenue from advertising, so it remains to be seen whether they can survive a serious downturn in ad revenues.

A worsening economy could take a serious chunk out of donations and underwriting as well.


Mostly known as a source of revenue for radio, Douglas Ruskkoff has accused Wired as essentially being a front for the Global Business Network and covering their clients more favorably than others. I won’t even begin to go into why this is bad for journalism (but I will say that Wired is still pretty much my favorite professional media outlet).

So what else is there? How else can the watchdogs make money? I will continue racking my brain.