Even before it was officially announced, The Daily Memphian had become an open secret within an increasingly small coterie of Memphis print journalists.
For the first time in years, high profile reporters were leaving the Commercial Appeal, not because of layoffs, which had become semi-regular events at the Gannett-owned paper.
They were just walking away: food writer Jennifer Biggs, sports columnist Geoff Calkins, popular blogger Chris Herrington. Others followed; the mystery of their departures a source of growing speculation.
They left for a new web-based newsroom now being built from scratch by a nonprofit funded by philanthropists, many of them anonymous. The Daily Memphianwas the result of wealthy citizens’ frustration over the gutting of local news.
And look, I know there’s griping about the philanthropic model, like is it enough, and won’t you then be beholden to donors, etc etc something something ethics-cakes, but this is the conversation currently happening in the for-profit world:
Journalists: We need money. To pay us, and hire photographers, and do research, and travel, and produce stories. We need money to cover the news. Will you give us some money?
Media company owners: How about a redesign?
J: Nope, money.
MCO: We’re re-branding and pivoting to video!
J: Give us some money. Our interns are eating their household pets to survive. Our lights got shut off last week for six hours, on deadline.
MCO: What if we launched a spinoff publication? We’ll call it “WHOOMP THERE IT IS.” The kids love it.
J: MO. NEY.
MCO: You’re always asking for money. You can’t just throw money at a problem.
J: Let’s try it, just once.
MCO: We’ve renamed the company. Your e-mail address now ends in “wheeze.com.”
MCO: It’s gonna be great.
Faced with THAT, I will take the ethical minefield that is “wealthy citizens” who actually want to fund the news. Because at least they’re not gonna take the money and light it on fire. One hopes.