A better reason for blogger consortia

| | Comments (2)

Pajamas Media launched in November amidst much fanfare and a certain amount of confusion, thanks to their last minute name switch to Open Source Media, followed by a quick reversal to Pajamas. As I understand it, the point of Pajamas Media is to get mainstream advertisers to support blogging by offering an attractive package of the most popular and prominent blogs.

That may be useful for advertisers and ultimately successful, but it doesn't seem to have had an immediate impact on content. Over time, the extra income may free up member bloggers to spend more time researching and writing, but most of the members are bloggers who became popular because they're already writing a lot and updating frequently.

I was thinking today about another potential benefit from bloggers banding together, and I didn't see anything on Pajamas Media's website addressing this: Affordable access to online research tools.

There's an amazing amount of information that is hidden away in pay-for-access databases. newslibrary.com has archives from 818 news sources across the country, including Tulsa Whirled and Tulsa Tribune content going back to 1989. LexisNexis has content ranging from news and magazine articles to court cases to voter registration records to incorporation documents to land records, information that can provide background for a story and help a writer follow the money and connect the dots.

Professional journalists sometimes have access to these databases through the publications they write for. A freelancer might be able to deduct the cost of a subscription, provided he has enough income to cover the cost in the first place, but even then, if the information he needs is scattered through several different databases, he'll end up paying a fee to each, and may not get enough benefit out of any one source to take advantage of volume discounts.

But bloggers have to make do with the free samples. Archives for the most recent week of a newspaper may be free, but anything before that is $2 an article. A database may provide free access to limited information or relatively weak search capability, but you have to pay a monthly fee to get the full information in a usable format or to be able to use full-featured search tools to find what you're after.

For example: I recently used GuideStar to look up the most recent IRS Form 990 for Planned Parenthood Golden Gate, to find out how much of the organization's income came from government funding. (See my linkblog archive, scroll down to 2005-12-13. Sorry; one of these days, I'll add permalinks.) Money is fungible, and the money they get from the government for less controversial services frees up donor money to pay for cartoons of pro-choice superheros destroying abstinence advocates. Bloggers have used GuideStar recently to find out who funds a think-tank advocating against prescription drugs from Canada , to look into the finances of certain megachurch-related businesses, and to find out how much government money goes to a group that has produced a puppet video to urge teens to lobby the FDA for emergency contraception without a prescription.

For free, you can look at the three most recent Form 990s for an organization, but if you subscribe for $30 or $100 a month, you can get lists of board members and executives and access to all Form 990s on file. Paid access gets you more powerful search tools, as well.

Some research sources are available for free through your local library system, but that means having to schedule research time during their hours, using their computers, and being limited to so many minutes of access per day. (Occasionally, the database owner will allow library patrons to log in from anywhere on the Internet, but that isn't the case with some of the most powerful and useful databases.) It's good enough for casual use, but not sufficient for intensive research.

Most of the database sites I've visited mention that they can arrange special rates for libraries, corporations, and news organizations which need access for multiple users in the same organization. So here's my idea, and perhaps it can be done through the Media Bloggers Association: Negotiate group rates for unlimited or at least less expensive access to these databases for member bloggers. Access could be offered as part of an enhanced package of membership benefits. A blogger would pay one annual fee to the bloggers' association, and it would entitle him to access to a dozen key databases. The association would accumulate membership fees and pay group fees to the database services.

Does this seem worth pursuing? I think it would add depth to blog entries and would encourage more investigative blogging. How much would you be willing to pay to have this kind of information at your disposal? Let me know what you think, especially if you're a fellow blogger, by posting a comment or emailing me at blog AT batesline DOT com.


James said:

Many frequent bloggers who blog don't do it for money. I for one donate any advertising revenue received from my blog to charity...


Just let me know when you get in touch with somebody who has a cousin who is in the TV business, so I can plug my TV show about blogging idea with "yours truly" as the hostess! I am for one not a research blogger/journalist. Tried the group thing and left one, now have 2 guest bloggers on mine which mixes things up a bit for content (fun) and takes some of the pressure of posting at least 5 times a day off!

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 27, 2005 9:14 PM.

was the previous entry in this blog.

Bananafana fo ... what? is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.



Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed:
[What is this?]