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Media experts are calling for tax deductible funding arrangements
to support the growth and survival of independent journalism given threats to mainstream print media.

Traditional corporate models within the industry have become obsolete, yet funding innovations are lagging behind evolving technology.

Professor of journalism at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), Wendy Bacon said: “For the first time a large number of people have realised how vulnerable the media is. If Fairfax was to go under … then there would be a monopoly.”

Ms Bacon calls for regulations to limit media ownership and promote a diverse landscape, and stressed the need to introduce tax incentives to encourage community support. “I was one of a number of people who put forward the idea that donations to non-profit foundations for
investigative journalism should be tax deductible,” she said.

“We’ve really got to look at ways of getting some form of tax subsidy and community funding of the media in ways that doesn’t threaten the independence of journalism.”

Launched in February, the Global Mail is a digital news site that has secured a five-year funding windfall from Graeme Wood. The company’s CEO, Jane Nicholls said philanthropically funded media is rare in Australia, but it is more popular in the United States. “There’s a lot of reader-funded journalism where they’re asking readers to donate
$5 here and there,” she said.

“In the States, you have that huge population and a different culture where there’s a much broader and deeper attitude to giving.”

Ms Nicholls said: “It has always been our stated aim to find revenue streams, to enable us to become at least partially self-funded in the future.”

Senior Research Fellow at the University of NSW’s Journalism and Media Research Centre, David McKnight said to be wary of wealthy benefactors. “There are plenty of rich people who want a vehicle for themselves and if they give money it won’t be no strings attached, there’ll be plenty of strings attached. Like Gina Rinehart …you could say she’s a white knight, she’s coming to the rescue, she’s cashed up, she could help Fairfax a real lot. Well except that we all know she’s got an agenda,” he said.

“So philanthropic underpinnings of newspapers can work if there is editorial independence, otherwise it becomes nothing different from the old newspaper barons who own newspapers to give themselves influence.”

While some publications like the New York Times, The Times in London and The Australian have introduced paywalls, other companies like Fairfax have hesitated at the risk of losing readers.

Mr McKnight said more people are reading Fairfax newspapers now more than ever and they are paying nothing for high quality content.

“To put a paywall around a newspaper is a fairly scary thing. It’s only been done for a year or two.

“This is, first of all, a crisis in advertising,” he said. “It’s,
secondly, a crisis of what people are reading and watching.” He said
commercial clients know there is a value difference between printed
and online advertisements.

“They want to have their ads online but they’re not prepared to pay anything like what they’re prepared to pay for half a page of a newspaper.”