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Brill's Plan to Save Journalism

If not for Steve Brill, you might not be reading this post. Brill is the lawyer, journalist and entrepreneur who, in 1987, founded The American Lawyer magazine. That magazine and the company he built around it are now owned by Incisive Media, which also owns and this very blog. So, if Brill had never founded the magazine, there might never have been a, and without, this blog would not exist. So, thanks Steve.

Brill eventually got out of publishing, for the most part. He now runs Verified Identity Pass, a company that offers a speedier way through airport security. But he still teaches journalism at Yale, where he and his wife endowed The Yale Journalism Initiative. And he still believes he knows a thing or two about the business of journalism. In particular, he thinks he knows how to save the newspaper industry from withering away.

The journalism blog Romenesko today publishes a memo Brill wrote to the top brass at the New York Times in November, in conjunction with a meeting he had with them. "For a while I have been thinking about a way to take some of the contrarian thinking that made me try The American Lawyer and Court TV way-back-when," he writes, "and apply it to a new business model to save the New York Times and journalism itself."

The core of the plan will surprise no one: Charge for content. Brill proposes readers pay 10 cents per article or purchase subscriptions by the day, month or year, capping at $55 for the full-year price. The more unique aspect of his plan is a strategy for, as he puts it, "turning today's parasites into tomorrow's sales force." He would encourage Web sites and blogs to link to NYT articles by paying them a referral fee. If a reader clicks through from a blog to the NYT and then buys something, the blog gets 5 percent.

As for the subscribers, Brill suggests that they be made to feel like they have a stake in the NYT. Annual subscribers should be given the chance to vote to elect an ombudsman and perhaps even issued a share of NYT stock. These suggestions and more would be marketed through a campaign with the slogan, "You get what you pay for."

Will the man who helped launch modern-day legal journalism now help save traditional journalism? Brill confirmed with Romanesko that he wrote the memo and that he met with someone in the NYT's hierarchy, although he did not name names. Meanwhile, the NYT itself this week characterized its survival strategy as built around its resiliency, shoring up its stature by filling in voids left by cutbacks at other newspapers. The article called this its "last-man-standing" strategy. If that's the best plan the NYT executives have come up with, they might want to give serious consideration to Brill's contrarian alternative.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on February 9, 2009 at 12:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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