Thursday, April 12, 2007

Independent media meetings in New York

My primary - and by far largest - pro bono service activity as a law professor is serving as the board chair of the Media Development Loan Fund, a nonprofit venture fund that provides financing and support to independent media organizations around the world. It's a great organization, and I'm very proud to be associated with it - and to have been associated with it from its beginnings a decade ago. I'm in New York for the next four days as we are having some joint meetings with other nonprofit organizations on independent media issues worldwide - such questions as how you assist independent media in closed societies, etc., and how independent media in the developing world links up with the internet and all the new web media. Very important questions.

One curiousity, however, is that our organization does a huge amount of work financing independent newspapers in many places in the developing world. It requires very skillful managerial and financial work to assist these newspapers to become or maintain their profitability, and learn the business skills to stay ahead in the game - a core premise of our organization being that independent media has to be profitable media, otherwise it eventually loses its independence. But my assessment, comparing the situation of newspapers in these developing world locations and newspapers in the post-literacy post-industrialized world, is that coming up with a successful strategy for print newspapers in places like the US is much, much more difficult. What do you do if you are the New York Times, the Boston Globe, or the Los Angeles Times? Try to find a hobbyist billionare to take you under wing? The fundamental business model - which still works in, say, many places in Africa despite the poverty and illiteracy - of print media doesn't appear to be working so well anymore, and I don't know that anyone really has a solution.

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