"If anyone is vaguely serious about preserving the best of past journalism and reinventing it for the modern era, the linked issues of money, ownership, litigation and susceptibility are the ones that need addressing FIRST, or we're doomed to an eternity of the partisan puff-piece frippery and recycled press releases that so blight our current press."
I agree, but this must start with the understanding that journalists need to get paid, and not at poverty levels, either. They have a right to earn a living, and those at the top of their craft have a right to a damned good living. Just like any other professionals in any other craft.
Once we as a society accept that, the question becomes how to fund it. Display advertising is dead. Finished. Kaputski. People are completely immune to it and there is no fucking way that pays that bills for any serious news organization. Millennial are [happy unicorn bunnies] that wouldn't pay a subscription for the water to extinguish themselves if they were on fire. That leaves four possible ways to pay for journalism.
1) Government sponsored. PBS to a damned fin job in the US. The CBC in Canada are top notch. Tea Party types would have an absolute aneurism at the very concept, however, because they are fundamentally capable of understanding that governments don't fail at everything and that journalistic organizations like the CBC do not allow the government to micromanage. So despite the proven viability of the model, we have to scratch that off the list.
2) Patronage. Al Jazeera does a bang up job of this and cranks out some of the best news on the planet. The flip side of this coin is that if the Patron decides to meddle, it can all go to shit. The only way it works is what I call the "Mozilla model": build a loyal enough following that there is a reason for larger, more profitable "news" empires to ensure you are kept alive and left unmolested. Apple to a Microsoft under the Microscope. Hardly ideal, but it is proven to work.
3) Crowdsourcing a.k.a begging. The wikipedia model. Shaming your readers into coughing up a bent pittance for a resource they use every single day. Personally, I'd rather be peeled than spat on by a bunch of layabout assholes who will begrudge the outfit every bent copper and moan ceaselessly that "true" journalists should do everything "for the love of the craft" and that content should be free.
This model is simply untenable. Somewhere between the 10,000th post about how "the only way for journalistic integrity to actually exist is for journalists to work four shifts a day in a Chinese iPhone factory and pursue their journalistic endeavors on the side without having the gall to beg hardworking readers for their money" and the 50,000th accusation that "the journalist is biased towards/against Apple because of his job in the iPhone factory" the journalist will snap. He'll go nuts and paint times square with the warm, viscous entrails of the entitled fuckbags that believe themselves so pure and unimpeachable that they are justified in demeaning and degrading people who are literally killing themselves in an effort to bring them news.
From a pragmatic standpoint, I don't believe any news organization can withstand the continued decline of not only it's reader base but the source of it's income. Add to that the fact that once a journalist has snapped they are unlikely to return to the craft and ultimately this model fails due to sheer attrition.
4) This brings us back to content marketing, which brings us back to money from advertisers, vendors and so forth. This requires a decently sized journalistic organization in which editors serve as a firewall between writers and journalists. Money is handled on side of the house and writing on another.
The firewall has to be pristine. Vendors cannot be allowed editorial input on articles that run. Journalists must be allowed the freedom to write whatever they want about any vendor they want. The sales and marketing teams find companies to funnel money into the machine and the editors ensure that no pressure from vendors ever crosses the barrier to their writers.
The downside to this model is the same as any other: there is the distinct risk that the journalist snaps and makes satisfying, mewling, bleeding display art out of a readership that hurls accusations of bias at the drop of a hat. This is greatly reduced, however, by the journalist making enough money to live reasonably comfortably and perhaps even support a family.
Ultimately, this is the only model that works. The journalist is isolated from the admen who fund the enterprise and gets paid enough to tell the fickle fucks who read his articles precisely what to go do with themselves.
The journalist has a duty to the truth. Not to a given person's interpretation of the truth, but to report the facts. Any and all facts they deem relevant. Advertisers will prefer some facts be added and some facts be omitted in order to help control the message. The milled masses will prefer the same, so as to cater to their personal prejudices and preconceptions.
If the mob is screaming "the black man done it" while they prepare a noose and tree, it's not the journalist's job to agree. If the companies who fund the place he writes for demand that a black man be proven to have done it, it still isn't the journalist's job to agree. It's the journalist's job to report what he knows and - if possible - find out who did do it. Black man, white man, or space alien.
Money needs to flow to pay the journalist's wages. It is the job of the news organization that the journalist writes for to firewall him from the source of that money.
Critically, however, the journalist has no more a duty to represent the presidencies and preconceptions of his readers than he does to write what those who pay him demand. The journalist's first duty is to the truth.
Nobody likes the truth. We all prefer a comforting lie. It is far easier for the soon-to-be-lawn-art milled masses to pillory the poor journalist than admit that their preconceptions were inaccurate. This makes determining bias hard. It requires critical thinking. It also requires the ability to analyze evidence dispassionately.
Sadly, as much as journalism has seen a decline over the past few decades (thanks, Murdoch,) critical thinking and analytical capability amongst the general populace have declined at a much faster pace. What good is a journalist if the populace to whom he delivers information demands not the truth, but emotionally satisfying confirmation of their already extant beliefs?
This is the true dilemma facing today's journalists. "Truth" and "truthiness" have become tangled up in personal politics, apathy, self interest, frugality, entitlement and cynicism. The journalist can deliver the purest, most untainted truth there is to deliver...but all to often we're left wondering if there's anyone out there but us who gives a bent damn about it anymore.