UC Berkeley's journalism school is teaming up with a wealthy San Francisco financier and KQED radio to create a non-profit news website, according to the New York Times. But the venture also threatens traditional news media in the Bay Area, because it will rely on 120 journalism students at Cal who will work for free. The massive free-labor workforce will give the new venture a huge advantage over established Bay Area media organizations that depend on paid, veteran journalists to gather and put together news stories.
The new venture, which is being initially financed by a $5 million grant by investor Warren Hellman, also threatens the long-term fortunes of the journalism students themselves. The venture will be a boon to the students in the short-term because it will give them valuable experience, but if it also forces Bay Area news organizations to make further cuts to stay competitive, then the students will be unable to find journalism jobs once they graduate.
Likewise, the new venture promises to be bad for the public over the long term. It's true that the Bay Area likely will experience an increase in local news coverage right away, but if the new venture forces traditional news organizations to further contract, then the public will be forced to increasingly depend on inexperienced, unpaid students to inform them about what's happening in the region.
Let's hope UC Berkeley and KQED seriously rethink this plan before it goes live early next year. The idea of a non-profit news organization has merit, but using what amounts to slave labor to make it happen is bad for journalism.