The retool of the Chicago News Cooperative, if not its demise, will be interesting to watch. It’s a group of Chicago newspaper journoes, of the big public interest story type that newspapers and wire services themselves now seem unwilling to fund. They covered Chicago, with a large grant from the MacArthur Foundation and a commitment from the NYT to publish two pages of news twice a week in the NYT Chicago edition. They were, in short, sustained by their commitment to be the NYT Chicago bureau, and the idea that a charity-supported news organization would the the outsource of news for the nation’s newspaper of record has a number of shitty ideas attached.

Before the NYT lept in and agreed to fund the coop, the coop had other ideas for supporting the gathering of big public interest news stories, one being the cultivation on the website of discussion groups the CJR piece below is calling “social media” groups, of people interested enough in particular issues — and stimulated in said interest by communication online with editors and reporters — to pay, as individuals, for coverage of said issues. Ie., flashmob or Kickstart-supported artistic projects. The story with the most votes would be crowned Homecoming Queen and literally monetized. The problem is that internet culture is notoriously self-policing, libertarian, male, predatory and bullying.

Flashmob-supported news isn’t so very different from the current model newsroom at the Washington Post, where the number of hits your piece is getting, in real time, is apparently posted on a scoreboard in the newsroom. Nor would it be different from the robust business model of the wire services, where purchase and play by clients is literally the bread and butter of the news. At least their clients are newspapers, and not lobbyists. Or Grover-Norquist-list-serv flashmobs and CPAC-funded dirty trix by James O’Keefe. Put on your pimp hat, baby. ‘Cause we’re goin’ out tonight.

Well you see where this is going. I like a closed system for journalism. I don’t like your having a micro-loan interest, or a macro advertiser or lobbyist interest in what topics are covered. You should not be able to buy a dinner with Katharine Weymouth and the reporters and editors of the Washington Post who cover your beat at Weymouth’s house. Nor should you be paying even a micro-slice of Woodward and Bernstein’s salary. Public interest journalism is not about popular, or populist, values. Often it is about injustice meted out by the majority to minorities. Ethics and not the number of reader hits are the essence of public journalism, and the question is how the only redeeming social importance for journalism is now to be monetized.

I’m always up for a good tip, but an enormous part of journalism is the two or three editorial meetings a day in which story ideas are argued, their newsworthiness attacked, with the survivors being what you see on page one. My experience of them is that icons can be smashed, to a certain degree; with war always taking precedence over allegedly “softer” news about causes and trends. That’s an argument that’s been going on for 40 years to my knowledge and certainly still is . The maudlin encomia for (the very untimely and totally unnecessary death of ) Anthony Shadid (asthma attack sneaking into Syria) make the point that his coverage of war was, as it was, in truth, extra special because he spoke Arabic, could eavesdrop and observe actions and nuance for example in the crowds and tumult of Tahrir Square to which Lara Logan was, to her serious detriment, tonedeaf. His coverage featured the vignettes of individuals doing things which contain answers about causes and trends, and tipped me off, early on, in paragraph 47 on page C98, that the Muslim Brotherhood was at the heart, large and in charge of the soccer thugs, and would prevail.

You read it here first:

Sameh Saber, another anti-government protester, started running toward the battle line [in Tahrir Square] with a tree branch.
“Put it down,” an older man implored.
“Three of my friends are bleeding inside,” Mr. Saber yelled back, “and my friend lost an eye!” But he put down the branch.”

I don’t see a flash mob being expert enough in knowing what the news is to support that kind of career. Learning Arabic and having it pay off 20 years later.

The other big trend in the news today is how the millenial males consider humor — Youtube shorts — more important to their “self-definition” than music. This demographic is the one advertisers want. If you want them to be part of your successful Chicago News Cooperative, you need to be making Jon Stewart your model and not newspaper reporters. And then you’d need to be in a different business.

But the channel also realizes that comedy is popping up on alternate screens, and the men Comedy Central wants to reach are spending more time downloading funny videos. As one buddy group participant put it, “Tosh.0, he does what I like to do: watch YouTube videos and make fun of them all day.”