Finding the next business model for news

The theme of CUNY’s “New Business Models for News” summit didn’t emerge contextually throughout the day. It was staring everyone in the face from the multiple monitors spread throughout the newsroom taken over by about 125 industry thinkers and leaders yesterday. It was this:

“Do what you do best. Link to the rest”

Linking in this case could be the literal A HREF hyperlink, but was often also about thinking about new ways to focus on the core and find ways to either jettison non-core (leaving it to others to pick it up) or find links through outsourcing, freelancing and mobilizing armies of bloggers and citizen journalists.

Jeff Jarvis, the chief provocateur for the day and organizer of the summit, set the tone early. “There won’t be any silver bullets today,” he cautioned. “If there were, we’d have already used them.”

The goal of the day was to provide an opportunity to start an intentional and ongoing conversation about how to rethink the business model for news gathering and reporting, largely at daily newspapers, but also in television and in national niche media. How do you take a business that is built on the scarcity model – there’s only one or two newspapers per town, allowing for the growth of eight- and nine-digit annual revenue streams - and rethink it for an age of information-ubiquity?

I won’t even attempt a blow-by-blow of the day when so much of it is available for watching and reading on the News Innovation web site. Also check out the contemporaneous Twitter stream. But here are some random highlights that jump out from my notes:

Edward Roussel of The Telegraph: If you’re a newspaper company, your technology sucks. Outsource it!

Dave Morgan, formerly of Tacoda: It’s time for newspapers to face reality. It’s a market problem, a business model problem and a cost problem. “Prepare for disassembly.” Newspapers, he said, need to disaggregate and start thinking about reporting, distribution, ad sales and direct marketing, printing and digital as different businesses and treath them accordingly.

Morgan on leveraging the existing structure: Newspapers have the best marketing and sales organizations in their markets. They could become strong local ad agencies if they’re untethered. Printing is either an area of opportunity – if newspaper do a whole lot more of it – or an albatross, that they should outsource.

Morgan on Digital: Making digital a sidecar to the newspapers is killing digital. Only divided (as businesses) can newspapers and digital endure.

Michael Rosenblum, Rosenblum TV: Both in the larger session and in the break-out, Rosenbloom hammered at the notion that it was absolute folly for newspapers to hire any journalists who were not absolutely adept at the full suite of digital reporting skills, including photography and videography.

Adam Davidson, NPR and creator of the excellent Planet Money: Respect people’s intelligence.

Samir Arora, Glam: News organizations need to be curators of content. The network has more value to the consumer than the brand.

Upendra Shardanand, Daylife. Before long, everyone will be a news publisher. How can you offer the best navigation of the world beyond your own content? News organizations need to do a better job of curating the world around their content.

Jay Rosen, NYU: There is a wealth of information available that your connected and interested users would be happy to share with you to make your product better. Publications that get to this point start their days with inboxes full of great ideas. How to make this happen? 1. Be two-way in your approach to reporting. Invite contributions. 2. Be clear that you need people to help you and that you will use their contributions.

More to come on the topic and goals of the day, but it was an excellent first step. Thanks to CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and, of course, Jeff Jarvis.

Budget cuts hurting? Here are some free ideas to improve your news organization

The current topic at the Carnival of Journalism is:

What are small, incremental steps one can make to fuel change in their media organization?

(Yes, we’d all like to swing in our newsroom, lay some boot heels on chests, hoist the black flag and change everything by the end of business on Monday — but the reality is, that ain’t happening unless you have a couple buckets of cash to buy a paper of your choice and a rusty saber.) So what are some realistic, real-world examples of free (or cheap) ways you can help fuel change at your newsroom.

Spend 15 minutes with the links on this page. You’ll get at least one idea you can use today.

And if I can talk my way into this party, here are some additional ideas I’d throw on the table:

  1. Get to know local bloggers. Email them. Introduce yourself. Grab a coffee with. Link to them. You’ll find they have a good pulse on the community. It may be a different pulse than yours, but that’s a good thing. Be generous with your links to them, and you may find your organization with deeper tiest to the community.
  2. Get in front of community groups. You and your reporters should be hanging with the Rotarians and the Community Organizers if you want to make a stronger connection with your local market. They’re just as plugged-in as the bloggers, but may not be blathering on about it on their blog. This is also a great jumping-off point for efforts to create a more-focused Citizen Journalism effort. What if you gave a Flip Mino (customized with your logo and message) to a neighborhood organization or school in exchange for a promise of weekly upates?
  3. Encourage corrections. At the end of your postings/articles, ask a question: Did we get it right? Include a link to a form to add corrections, clarifications, and suggestions for further reporting. Great ideas and deeper connections follow.
  4. Encourage your reporters to think like curators. I’ve beat this particular drum previously, so I’ll keep it short here. But you’ve got a roomful of subject-matter experts; having them just report is wasting more than half their brains.
  5. Link. If you don’t link, you’re a dead-end.

Why the AP will change or die

Here’s a shocker: An Associated Press editor thinks it’s a bad idea for local news organizations to withdraw from the AP.

Really?

In an awfully one-sided report on E&P, AP’s Kathleen Carroll says that going through with the move will burden local news organizations and their web teams, who will be unable to replace the service, not just in print, but in its multimedia offerings as well. “We are moving an ocean of content,” she says.

That’s great, but that doesn’t address the chief complaint against the AP: that they charge their members (a lot) for the privilege of giving away their locally-unique content in exchange for access to commodity national and world news now available through other channels.

The Associated Press is a collective – owned by the member organizations (read: newspapers) that exists to facilitate the sharing of news across the borders of cities and countries. So far, so good. If it didn’t exist, bloggers would probably be agitating for something like it.

But the problem is two-fold:

1. It was created at a time where its greatest benefit was carriage. Getting a news story or photo from halfway around the world was nothing short of a miracle. In 1849, when it was formed. Today, in the age of instant communication on the internet, the AP’s primary function has been rendered moot.

2. It unfairly treats original reporting by (mainly) newspaper companies as a commodity, laundering stories wholesale so that they can be picked up by competing media outlets (television, radio, local and national internet competitors) easily and with a clean conscience. This means that a story that a local paper may invest a week of time reporting can be re-reported with no effort – and no attribution – by the local tv station.

And, for this privilege, the current contracts have the newspapers paying dearly.

In a time when local newspapers are struggling to convince their markets that they’re valuable, the fact that the entire front page is leading the noon broadcast on Action News doesn’t help make the case.

Ultimately, there is a crying need for news organizations to share content. I think, though, that moves like Tribune’s to withdraw from the collective will become much more common in the coming months, as news organizations rethink the value of the AP in reaching the goal of better and more efficient news coverage. Also, bolder moves, such as those described by Scott Karp in his discussion of the link economy, may emerge as viable – and much less expensive – alternatives.

No matter what, the AP as we’ve known it, will not live to see 2010.

If your site can’t handle inbound Drudge traffic, are you really in the news business when it matters?

Seriously. If your calendar says 2008 or later, and you’re a metro-market news site, and you can’t handle a wave of traffic from Drudge or Digg or Slashdot or any of the popular linkfarms, you should rethink your server budget.

(Yeah. I know. I should be so lucky.)

UPDATE: I questioned posting this, because I thought it bordered on unfair. But now two hours later, the same article on tampabay.com is still being linked by Drudge and is still making their server swoon. Unsolicited advice: make it a static page for now.

UPDATE 2: As of 12:15 pm, the site appears to be stabilized. Glad they’re back.

Holovaty to jazz up Google? (He says no.)

According to Valleywag, journo-tech whiz Adrian Holovaty of Everyblock.org and all-around likable oracle may be headed to Google, presumably to do some non-evil journalistic data stuff.

Google wants to buy Holovaty’s startup, we hear. Holovaty says that he’s had no conversations with Google, but did have lunch with a friend at Google’s campus last week, which he stresses was “a social matter.” The effort to buy his venture — there’s no “deal,” Holovaty tells us — has hit some kind of unusual hitch. It’s not clear what the holdup is.

This bears watching.

Edit to add: In the comments, Adrian points again to the Valleywag article where he “sets the record straight.” He says he was on the Google campus for a social visit. Valleywag quotes him, then goes on to talk about some “hitch” in the deal that Holovaty says doesn’t exist.

I’m going to err on the side of trusting Holovaty and call the Valleywag piece out for the unsourced bit of wishful thinking that it appears to be, until I see something more concrete.

(Original Holovaty photo by J.D. Lasica here)

The Daily Beast: Not perfect, but at least it knows it’s on the web

Tina Brown’s new venture launched yesterday, making this an impossibly late-to-the-party comment in today’s feverish blog cycle, but I really like this about The Daily Beast:

It links. The Beast links, prominently.

That such a thing is noteworthy here at the tail end of 2008 is a sad commentary, but I’m going to be glass-half-full guy and celebrate it.