Not one, I would venture to say, has a prayer of surviving even a fraction of the financial firepower aimed at Gawker. Yet as more investigative and other watchdog journalism is undertaken by the likes of in the United States and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in the United Kingdom, their sustainability matters to all of us.

Be careful, be very careful

The obvious implication for entrepreneurial news organizations is that they must do their utmost to adhere to both ethical responsibilities and legal requirements—not just because it’s the right thing to do but also because their own future depends on it. That is emphatically not to say they should be timid nor that they should pull their punches. It is to say that they should be exceptionally careful to get the story right—and to get it in the right way.

But there is a clear implication for “legacy” news outlets, as well. Despite the proliferation of competition right across the media spectrum, they remain the ones best able to withstand the pressures of those who would prefer they curtail their reporting or, better still, go away altogether. As always, power is needed in order to hold the powerful to account—and to ensure that such accounting reaches public attention.

Staff cutbacks and financial pressures, along with other factors, have meant a well-documented decline in in-depth journalism by legacy outlets in recent years. Some of that gap is indeed being filled by passionate journalists at digitally savvy start-ups, and their work benefits us all.

But as the demise of Gawker reminds us, few if any start-ups—even those that are profitable, with a well-established reputation and following—rest on reliably solid economic ground. In an age of welcome journalistic flowering, the expertise, influence, and still relatively rich resources of the mainstream media remain vital social assets that must not be squandered.

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