So you want to make money in journalism?

“Who here wants to be a billionaire?”

As a television anchor, radio talk show host, Washington DC correspondent (heck, even as a weathercaster) I was expected to speak before various groups, classes or organizations.  It’s called outreach, and it was designed to publicize the stations where I worked.  What better way, after all, to help bring attention to a newscast –or newscaster- than meeting the viewing public in person?  Over the past decade or so, I would begin each speech with the same question.

“Who here wants to be a billionaire? 

After some hesitation, the vast majority of those in the Rotary Club or college graduate level journalism seminar or middle school social studies class I was speaking to would raise their hands.  Some would thrust their arms up as high as possible, others in a casual sure-I’ll-go-along manner, a few would even spend a moment seriously contemplating the question….as if I were about to write a check for each person who did, in fact, want to become a billionaire. 

Inevitably, however, nearly everyone would say yes. 

“Fine,” I’d tell them.  “You want to become a billionaire? Here’s how: develop a system that can combine the best of old-school journalism with the internet…and the riches will be yours.”

Pretty simple, really.  Right?

Not necessarily. 

No one has yet been able to come up with a proper system that truly monetizes journalism.  Sure there are pay sites, there are advertisements that pop up whenever you click on a video link; there are subscriptions, fees and donation based sites. 

I bring all of this up because of a recent change in media ownership.  Red Sox owner John Henry, whose purchase of the Boston Globe was made official last week, described the Globe, its relationship to New Englanders, and the responsibility that comes with owning the paper.  Any owner of the Globe should be, he wrote, a steward.  

I can think of no better description for a news outlet owner.  Check out the story here…. 

His comments were quite interesting, but there are two things I picked up on: first, he worked on the McCarthy campaign in 1968.  For some reason that absolutely floored me.  Second, he gave such short shrift to the manner in which he made his money.  You, like me, I am sure, worry daily about the mortgage, the car payment, the cable bill, retirement, college funds for the kids.  I couldn’t imagine what life would be like without those pressures hanging overhead.  Mr. Henry has no such worries.  He worked hard.  He made hundreds of millions of dollars and then, after making his fortune, parlayed that fortune into sports ownership.  His group was responsible for ending an 86 year championship drought for the Red Sox, he invested millions into the improvement of Fenway, he purchased one of the most well-known English soccer teams….

…and now he owns the Globe. 

Not bad, Mr. Henry.  Not bad at all.

Perhaps it will take a billionaire (Forbes pegs Henry’s net worth at $1.7 billion) to come up with the matrix required to truly monetize journalism.  Truth be told….I’m still of the belief that journalism –as it was considered long ago- will always be a loss leader.  Perhaps finding that perfect combination of journalism, the web, and financial success is impossible. 


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