Can journalism continue to happen if there's no money for it?
That's a real question right now, as the news business grapples for a way to cope with a craven new world where neither readers nor advertisers will pay what they've traditionally paid for what journalists do.
One possibility that seems increasingly likely is both worrying and, in a strange way, reassuring: The decline of journalism as something that's done mainly by professionals who make a living from it.
Instead, I think we're beginning to see the rise of the Op-Ed model: More and more news sites that look and feel like the contribution-fed, opinion pages of today's daily newspaper. The work is produced not by staff members but by outside people with some knowledge of a topic. They're not paid much if at all, and their work is assigned, steered and made presentable by full-time editors employed in-house.
This model goes beyond aggregation sites, such as the Drudge Report, which summarize and link to news published elsewhere, or blogs like Daily Kos and Instapundit, which are built around opinion.
It's also a big step beyond crowd-sourcing, in which civilians roll up their sleeves and start unearthing information to feed staff reporters – the kind of powerful input that helped the Fort Myers News-Press expose utility overcharges and Talking Points Memo make sense of the firings of eight of U.S. attorneys and force Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' resignation.
Instead, it's what you see emerging in such sites as HuffingtonPost.com and The Daily Beast, which build from a base of content filched from other sites while adding analysis and comment from a stable of outsiders, many of them marquee names who bring appeal and credibility.
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