Free and Open Source Journalism

So maybe Jay Rosen wants to be the Richard Stallman of journalism. All of which begs the question, who will be its Eric Raymond?

My post last week on Jay Rosen  and his somewhat miffed reply reminded me of a career-long obsession, and what makes open source so fascinating.

The obsession is business models. I have studied them for 30 years. I have made a special study of journalism business models, and had a lot of great arguments about them with one of my Northwestern professors, the late Richard Schwarzlose.

I argued that technology would increase the number of jobs in journalism. Mr. S argued otherwise.

Since then evidence has appeared for both sides of the argument. More people are working in journalism than ever before, if you consider blogs to be journalism – and many blogs are just that. On the other hand the number of jobs out there, as defined by the Northwestern placement office, has declined. Newspapers, TV, and magazines have all been hit, and the number of jobs these outlets have added online has not made up for the losses.

Open source fits into this because, unlike Richard Stallman's Free Software idea, it offers a business model. You can make money from services, from support, from updates, from customization. Many open source businesses are prospering.

Journalism today has two main business models. The one we use here is advertising.  There are also overtly-political business models, magazines (The New Republic, The National Review) or newspapers (The Washington Times) which are subsidized by people who use them to be political players. And of course there are hybrids (Fox), where politics is used as a niche but the aim remains to make money from ads.

One reason Jay likely thinks I was dismissing him is that his doesn't really have a business model in the conventional sense. A $10,000 check from Craig Newmark and an idea that maybe people will pay for other people to look for stuff is not a business model – it's a dream. (Unless you're looking for stories as an audience of one, in which case it's a Sam Spade business model -- the stuff that dreams are made of.)

But Stallman's GNU is also, mainly, a dream. It's a dream that is coming true for millions of people. It's centered on altruism, and as I've written many times before, open source companies using GPL licenses often have stronger communities than those with more business-like BSD-type licenses.

So maybe Jay Rosen wants to be the Richard Stallman of journalism. All of which begs the question, who will be its Eric Raymond? (If you haven't guessed yet, Raymond is smiling from the top of this piece.)