“He who pays the piper generally calls the tune.”

Mathias Huter; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

J. Herbert Altschull wrote this in his influential book, Agents of Power, which was published in 1994. He argued that someone pays for the news media—it could be a political party, or the government, or—in the United States—advertisers. Moreover, whoever pays the bills influences the way news will be reported.

So true.

Mathias Huter, who works for Transparency International, talked to a group of students at the Frontline Club about who pays for media in Georgia. Huter basically said that General Media has a monopoly of over advertising in government controlled media, and independent media get the leftover funding scraps. General Media and Saakashvili’s government are connected.

In 2009, the total amount of advertising money in Georgia was low–$43 million to $46.5 million—which Huler said was about how much advertising money The New Yorker magazine received in six months. Of that total, 78% was spent on television and 1% was spent on the Internet, so if you are not selling ads on television, you’re not getting much money. Even worse, two television stations get 60% of all the TV advertising revenues, and  (prepare yourself), both TV stations cooperate on the business side and on the journalism side, and (really brace yourself), both TV stations are controlled by the government. Huler drew upon research by Transparency International to show many additional ways that politics has influenced the advertising market in Georgia.

But that’s not what really interested me—it’s a familiar story.

I was interested in Huler’s suggestions for making online journalism financially sustainable. One idea was for independent media and bloggers to use flattr (http://flattr.com/). Here’s how it works: “Pick how much you’d like to spend per month, for example €3. Then, whenever you see a Flattr button on a blog or website that you like, click it.”

“We count up all of your clicks at the end of each month and distribute your monthly contribution between everything you’ve clicked on. Simple, right? Of course, you’re also welcome to add a Flattr button to your site and get other people’s support too.” Huler also talked about asking people to use SMS to make small donations and voluntary subscriptions. The key to such micro-financing is to make giving convenient and to establish trust and a close relationship with your audience.

I like it.

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About keithrkenney
Keith Kenney is a professor of visual communication at the University of South Carolina. He is living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a year. This blog is about several topics. "CSJMM-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia. "USC-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. CSJMM and SJMC are recipients of a "Journalism School Partnership" program grant from the US Department of State. The purpose of this $750,000 grant is to improve CSJMM and ensure its sustainability. "Tbilisi, Georgia" is about Susanna Melo and my experiences in Tbilisi. "Columbia, SC" will be about our experiences in our home town--Columbia--when we return home. "Georgia" is about Susanna and my experiences when we travel in Georgia outside of Tbilisi. "United States" is about our experiences traveling in the US. "Films and Photography" is about two documentary films I'm working on in Georgia. One story follows how Adishi handles the rapid tourism that is being developed in Svaneti. The other story follows Tamaz Jalagania, who is a craftsman of swords and guns, an opera singer, and an extraordinary storyteller. "Scholarship" is about my current books, articles, reviews, and grants.

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