How to Fund Journalism: Schwag

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The New York Times has found a new source of funding for journalism: Isaac Mizrahi-designed raingear. In a memo to the company, New York Times president Scott Heekin-Canedy called the $99 coat and umbrella combo, “a summer sensation for The Times Store,” according to the Nieman Journalism Lab‘s Zachary M. Seward. The New York Times has also tried creating a wine club as a way to cure their budget woes.

It’s easy to poke fun at the Times for the coat and the wine club, but Seward writes that this kind of merchandizing is “likely to play a significant role as news organizations scramble to replace print advertising revenue.”

The efforts are “a double edged sword” according to Megan Garber of the Columbia Journalism ReviewNewspapers often engage in community building, and events like wine clubs–which USA Today and The Wall Street Journal are also trying–could be seen as an extension of that. And it’s not a big deal if the New York Times sells coats, as long as they use that money to fund cutting-edge journalism. On the other hand, Garber says, “it’s unfortunate that it’s not, strictly speaking, journalism.”

Both the coats and the wine club could also be seen as a replacement for the classified sections of newspapers, a revenue source that has been gutted by free services such as Craigslist. Classified ads, like the coats, had very little to do with journalism beyond funding the newspaper.

The real problem, however, is that media outlets haven’t yet figured out a way to fund their work using journalism. According to Garber, “I don’t know that we’ve proven that people aren’t willing to pay” for news. Newspapers simply haven’t figured out how to do it effectively, so far.

Sources: Nieman Journalism LabColumbia Journalism Review

Image from the New York Times store.

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