It’s become something of a social media cliché – there’s a "future of news" conference somewhere, there’s a lot of Twittering about it, probably with a slightly ungainly hashtag, and then, before long, someone will say something like: "It’s very well all this complaining – why don’t you spend the time you spend complaining actually doing something about it?" The inevitability of this comment appearing will probably be "a law" some time soon. Or maybe a softer variant of Godwin’s law – the notion that the longer any online conversation goes on, the more likely it is that the Nazis or Hitler will be invoked.
Pleasingly, though, in the last few weeks, someone has done something about it. Specifically, a couple of reporters have launched a new journalism venture called Matter (www.readmatter.com).
They describe Matter like this: "Matter is the new home for in-depth, independent journalism about the ideas that are shaping our future. Our stories range across the fields of technology, medicine, the environment and science, as well as the social and cultural worlds that surround these subjects. That means we’ll cover everything from corporate misdeeds and untold environmental scandals to radical new scientific ideas and the people behind them."
The most interesting thing about it is that it’s properly native to the digital world we’re in now. To start with, it was born on Kickstarter, the site that asks people for money for a project that you plan to do. That meant they had the money to build Matter before they started – specifically, more than $140,000 from more than 2,500 supporters. That’s a great beginning.
Second, they’re not a website or a mobile app or a magazine. They’re all of these things. They’re just available on whatever digital channel you fancy: on your Kindle, on your phone, on your computer.
Third, they’ve built their business around getting paid for what they actually do – supporters pay for the particular kind of journalism they’d like to read. It’s not like a generalist title where the celebrity coverage supports the foreign news. And there’s not the circuitous attention model of ad-supported media. I’m sure they wouldn’t be averse to some discrete "advertising" partners, but the business isn’t about collecting eyeballs to sell to someone else, it’s based on charging for what they actually make: high-quality reporting.
I don’t know if Matter will work. I hope so. And I bet it will. But it’s interesting because it represents a new generation of responses to digital media. It’s not porting old models on to the web, it’s starting again – a media business idea built for today’s reality – neither coasting on, nor weighed down by, heritage or legacy. They’ve stopped moaning, they’ve actually done something, they’re actually doing something for now.