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As News Increasingly Moves Online, Who Will Pay For Journalism?

A review of Dan Kennedy's new book, The Wired City.

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No book is without its flaws, of course, and The Wired City has its own. In particular, Kennedy is too easy on the lame explanation Bass offers for not having a single person of color on his reporting staff -- Bass says he "simply hired people he knew were good and who sought him out." But Kennedy partially makes up for this lapse by quoting one African-American community leader's smart observation, "It's as if you are writing my story right now. It would be better if I wrote my story." In any event, it should come as no surprise that Bass's white reporter says he is greeted with suspicion in the black community, feels "slightly nervous" when covering it, or that teenagers yell "You're in the wrong neighborhood, boy!" when he does...

Still, when we as a democratic society are at what Kennedy accurately calls, "a historical moment when nonprofit media -- supported by foundations, donations, and, indirectly, taxpayers, since contributions are tax-deductible -- are in many cases more stable than for-profit media," his book offers a valuable window into one possible future. It is, as he says, happily a future of "professional news organizations run by paid journalists," but one that has "built into it DNA" a deeper, better and fundamentally different relationship with audiences. One result, Kennedy concludes, is that "journalism, if not newspapers, is already being saved -- not everywhere, and not perfectly. But in city after city, region by region, dedicated visionaries are moving beyond the traditional model of print newspapers supported by advertising."

"May you live in interesting times," as the old Irish adage -- or curse -- has it, and so we journalists do. The next few decades, says Kennedy, "are likely to be as exciting a time for journalism" as we have seen in centuries. But fear not. "What we are living through now is not the death of journalism," he says, "But, rather, the uncertain and sometimes painful early stages of rebirth." Researching his book, Kennedy concludes, "left me profoundly optimistic about the future of journalism." Reading it will do the same for you.

Filmmaker and journalist Rory O'Connor is the author of "Shock Jocks: Hate Speech and Talk Radio" (AlterNet Books, 2008). O'Connor also writes the Media Is A Plural blog.

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