Spending v. investment

A couple of weeks ago, Jim Romanesko reported that the Ford Foundation had donated $500,000 to the Washington Post. The money is expected to cover the cost of hiring four people for a year.

According to a memo from Marcus Brauchli, executive editor of the Post, the four new hires will "work on special projects related to money, politics and government." The Ford Foundation provided a one-year grant, with an "agreement in principle" that it could be extended for another two years.

Since the announcement was made, I have been pulled between a certain degree of satisfaction that the Ford Foundation values this kind of investigative journalism and the concern that the money would be better spent building a different business model.

There's no question that the interplay among money, politics and government deserves scrutiny. The Ford Foundation deserves credit for pledging as much as $1.5 million to the Post for that purpose.

But what happens when that money runs out? Will the dynamic have shifted enough to convince the Post to continue to fund these positions? Or do we return to the current situation, having broken some good stories while the business model weakened some more?

After thinking about it, I'm leaning toward a weakened business model. In some ways, this move reminds me Seth Godin's recent Kickstarter stunt. A resourced, well-known media presence raises money to fund a new project. The act proves that money can be raised, but beyond that it's still an expense, not an investment.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.