How Patronizing

new models for newspapers.

Michael Miner’s fascinating article on new business models for local newspapers suggests that patronage rather than profit might fit the bill.

While many fret the disappearance of the local daily, and others look to the music business for journalism’s survival, I wonder if it is the art gallery, or perhaps the museum, that might serve as the model. Without ever saying so, Miner’s column suggests this. Maybe the newspaper could function like an artwork, its makers the artists funded by patrons?

Hans Haacke: Violin and Cigarette: Picasso and Braque (1990)

Newspaper Collage: Hans Haacke, Violin and Cigarette: Picasso and Braque (1990)

The artworld model gives newspaper editors and writers a sense of independence: drawing on the cult of the artist, they become autonomous creators rather than mere propagandists. (Yes, yes, I know the cult of the artist is a deeply problematic proposition, but it does exist, at least as a powerful myth.)

And while journalists become the Picassos of digital print, patrons get something even better than hoarding  paintings on their own living room walls for noone else to see: they get to show off their patronage in the public commons.

The old model of the newspaper is dying. But like all unruly forms of the commodify (music, literature, art, information, maybe even love itself), the news wants to be free. It yearns to live. This is because the news does something beyond deliver a good to market. It also delivers good to civil society.

That is, the news is like oxygen in the atmosphere of the commons: it sustains the shared space of knowledge, facts, opinions, ideas, and debates, disagreements. We’d be lonely and isolated without it (which is perhaps what the “free” market of capitalism wants). The sociality of the news is what makes it so important — and what keeps it in the air.

That makes the art patron model imperfect and compromised. Would we only get all the news that’s fit to fund? After all, patrons might censor or distort the news through their economic might. But as David Beers of Vancouver’s Tyee told Miner, the advertising model was far from perfect on this count anyway.

So perhaps the patron model offers a new way to sustain the much-needed public sphere of the newspaper in the information age.

From galleys to galleries?

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