Monday, March 13, 2006

The "subscription" model and Jason Kottke

Here's something:

One year ago a very popular blogger named Jason Kottke (who is an OG in the blogging set and his site is quite entertaining--check it) decided to go pro. He put out a call for "micropatrons" who would collectively provide the financial support so he could blog full time and not resort to putting ugly, third party adds on his website. This may be beginning to sound familiar to you. The tech community calls it a "subscription" model, but that's not accurate. Non-subscribers still get to enjoy the service. What it is, is a pledge model. He did a three week drive and raised $39900 from about 1450 people.

Today as a keynote interviewee, Kottke declared this experiment in online fund raising a failure. He felt like he hadn't grown his readership enough to make the pledge model sustainable. This could be true. But more interestingly, he said he couldn't take the pressure of having 1500 bosses. He felt deeply beholden and more heavily scrutinized, as evidenced by the interviewer Heather Armstrong who complained "I saw you take my $60 pledge on a trip to Asia!" Kottke is now considering taking ads.

I have been through quite a few pledge drives in public radio and I tend to pitch a lot on the air. One of the points I always make is that I'd rather be beholden to the folks out there in listenerland than any underwriter, or (God forbid) advertiser. The pledge drive may not be everyone's favorite thing to listen to, but if there ever comes a day when you don't hear the pledge drive anymore, that is the day I will be fearful for the future of public radio.


At 11:11 AM, Blogger Saltherring said...

Greetings Roman...My problem is that whoever gives the most money to public radio, whether its a corporation or an individual is going to have the most input. So I really don't see a difference. There is very little "public" about Chicago Public Radio. WBEZ caters to its donors & underwriters first and foremost, before any concern for what the "public" really wants. The station may have a more liberal and open-minded policy towards what it reports, but the station is run just like any other media outlet.

At 11:56 AM, Blogger jm@houseinprogress said...

Hmm. Even if you aren't paid by your readers, you still feel influenced by them. Well, I do at least. If we began to accept positive reviews for compensation or if we pretended to know more than we do, I would feel discouraged and terrible about the writing I do because I would feel that we are letting readers down. So, there is that.

I don't necessarily agree with saltherring about public radio. The "public" in public radio doesn't mean "consensus radio". That would a chaotic nightmare! Instead, I think of "public" radio as an important participant in the Fourth Estate. Supported through public donations and a public service to keep us informed of diverse, sometimes complicated, issues. Not to chase ambulances or blare the same headline over and over within 30 minutes in order to incite fear or excitement. I also don't agree with public radio being completely "liberal". It presents diverse points of view instead of pre-approved talking points that support a narrow conservative viewpoint...that doesn't make it liberal, that makes it responsible journalism. I didn't hear as much grousing about liberal public radio when they were covering Clinton's impeachment. There is a conservative administration in power and there are lots of important things happening related to that government...that doesn't make public radio anti-Bush, it makes public radio pro-news coverage. Nor should they EVER be anti-Bush, which will annoy die-hard liberals who don't want to hear anything positive about this administration. This whole "if you're not completely for me, you're against me" argument should fall apart related to journalism because journalism should provide MANY points of view. No donor should be allowed to edit the news. And that is why, if ADM committed some awful corporate crime tomorrow, I'm confident that public radio would cover it fairly without checking with the folks from ADM who donate funds to public radio.

I'll get off of my soapbox now...enjoy SXSW.

At 1:20 PM, Blogger Saltherring said...

by public i didn't mean "consensus radio", i meant being transparent about budgets, policies, programming, etc. i understand it would be impossible and a big mess to make all of these aspects available for anyone to see. however, i feel that if something is truly public than it should be willing to receive and accept input and criticism regarding these things. our "public" radio station here in chicago caters to who kicks down the most money. a good example of this is their so-called jazz programming. it basically operates as a smooth jazz station, refusing to play anything that they feel would offend their patrons. very few local musicians are even played.

also, i wasn't trying to say all public radio is liberal. i think we were trying to say the same thing, they do embrace the complexities of news reporting and don't give preference to one side or another. i was just trying to say that the way the stations function behind the scenes is not much different than any other media outlet.

and about ADM, their corporate crime record is quite huge.


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