The Future of Reporting and Honest Answers about Monetizing the Web

I was invited to speak to SUNY Oneonta’s communication honors society about my ‘successful career’ in online publishing for their speaker’s series a week ago. I jumped at the chance because I love public speaking and, as SUNY Albany alum, I have a soft spot for SUNY students, I was also extremely honored to be asked. The speakers included a television anchor from Albany, NY and an owner of a local paper based in Cooperstown, NY. Both spoke about the challenges, but also the rewards, of being a reporter and touched upon the changing landscape of journalism and how it has impacted their career.

I was the last speaker and a lot of the students were interested in how to monetize the web and if websites and blogs can in fact ‘pay the bills.’ Good questions, no? So good actually that the greatest minds in publishing are trying to figure it out for themselves. Personally, I use my blog as a networking tool and resume and get work through it and do not get ad revenue from it. All bloggers have different ways of profiting off their website, but most do it for the love of it, or as a way of being ‘discovered.’ At a local book store I was struck by how many authors are also bloggers this is true for journalists too, and in this time of insecurity, I think it is a good investment to invest in your personal brand and cultivate your personal voice online.

Content and being paid for it is a tricky situation for bloggers and independent journalist. It is something that our greatest minds and power brokers are debating. Is content free? Should it be? Blogging is at its core extremely democratic, but what is happening to American journalism could have some profoundly undemocratic repercussions.

Ever since I listened to Adriana Huffington give this impassioned speech entitled Journalism 2009: Desperate Metaphors, Desperate Revenue Models, and the Desperate Need for Better Journalism at the Federal Trade Commission, I have been obsessed with the issue of monetizing the web and how to make content lucrative again. I am also trying to navigate it myself, as a blogging professional.

We are in a media flux right now, with some hopeful trends, a focus on more local news being my favorite. One such example is our local online paper the Watershed Post that covers a lot of local issues that really matter to us. Other not so rosy examples include the church of Scientology hiring two esteemed (but out of work) journalists to investigate the journalists that are investigating them. This is an unprecedented use of reporting as an intimidation tool, and belies how reporting for hire could become a new sinister breed of journalism. Like with all things there is good with the bad, but what cannot be denied is that we are in the midst of a paradigm shift. How will it end? Will the New York Times put up a pay wall? Will social media visionaries like Zachary Cohen be able to convince independent-minded art bloggers to join forces(hopefully)? Will we have mercenary journalists working for Exxon mobile and Monsanto? Or will our media landscape reflect a kinder, gentler local focus like Liza de Guia‘s charming and wildly popular Food Curated? Maybe a bit of both. And maybe this is a good thing.

What are your thoughts?