Foundation-Funded Health News Service, Free Blogs for Reporters Pink-Slipped

“It’s a long way from $700 billion ….”

With that glib lead paragraph, the presumably still-employed Jenna Wortham reported in the November 24 New York Times that TypePad publisher Six Apart has started “its own economic bailout plan” for recently axed bloggers and journalists. The TypePad Journalist Bailout Program consists of TypePad Pro, generally retailing for $150 a year.

Available to 20 to 30 reporters, the plan was launched after Six Apart had its own down-sizing of employees via a “Hello, recently-laid-off or fearful-of-layoffs journalist!” posting.

“This has struck a nerve,” a Six Apart executive told Wortham. The company’s Anil Dash said he was surprised by the reaction, perhaps not fully appreciating just how many newsroom staff actually fall into that “fearful-of-layoffs” category.

“How do we do right by all these people?” Dash asked.

It’s a question a lot of newsroom working stiffs – both on and off the environment and science beats – are also asking. Both of themselves and those (?) who they hope might be able to lend a hand.

And there’s more.

Yet another sign of the times in the financially sapped news business. Not that it’s alone among sapped businesses, mind you.

Journalism a la Foundation Support

The Kaiser Family Foundation says it is starting an in-depth health care policy and politics news service, with a two-year budget expected to range between $3 and $4 million. It’s the kind of foundation-backed “real” journalism some say is just what the doctor has ordered to help give life-sustaining support to independent reporting when the tides are running strongly against it.

The Menlo Park, Ca.-based foundation has hired experienced reporters from The Wall Street Journal and from National Public Radio to staff the Washington, D.C.-based Kaiser Health News, which expects to begin producing original copy early next year, using up to a half-dozen staff reporters and also freelancers.

It’s one of several foundation-funded health care-oriented journalism initiatives designed at filling the increasing void being left by “MSN” – mainstream news media.

Try substituting the term “climate change news” in the following quote attributed to Kaiser Foundation President Drew Altman in a story in The New York Times November 24:

I just never felt there was a bigger need for great in-depth journalism on health [climate change] policy and to be a counterweight to all the spin and misinformation and vested interests that dominate the health care [climate change] system …. News organizations are every year becoming less capable of producing coverage of these complex issues as their budgets are being slashed.

In a story about the Kaiser Foundation move, Times reporter Kevin Sack wrote that “Whether the philanthropic model for Web-based news coverage is financially sustainable is far from settled, especially with the stock market in decline.”

He wrote that Kaiser’s holdings (total assets of about $500 million and annual budget of $40 million) had shrunk by about $100 million over the past year. Sack reported that the foundation will not accept ads in Kaiser Health News but that it has accepted funding from a foundation tied to a California nonprofit group selling Medicare policies to help support the project.

Odds are we’ll see a lot more of this kind of foundation-funded “independent” journalism in the future.

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