About the New Business Models for News Project

Posted on 12. Jun, 2009 by in Hyperlocal, New News Organization, News Ecosystem, Not-For-Profit, Paid Content, Resources, Revenue

We at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism believe that the discussion about the future of journalism — as newspapers and other news organizations find their business rapidly eroding around them — needs to be informed by facts, figures, and business specifics. That is why we created the New Business Models for News Project.

The project is researching best practices in the business of journalism online, gathering new ideas and experiments in revenue for news. We will build complete business models to share with the industry and with the journalists, communities, entrepreneurs, technologists, and investors who will create the future of news.

The project is funded by the Knight and McCormick Foundations. Two earlier conferences leading up to the work of the project were funded by the MacArthur Foundation. The work of the project’s first phase will be presented at the Aspen Institute in August and will be shared, publicly and in progress, on this site.

Our work begins with the assumption that there will be a market demand for quality journalism, watchdogging those in power, and that the market will find a way to meet that demand. The question so many are asking is how. We will attempt to answer that by projecting the future of news in a metropolitan area, concentrating on four perspectives — hyperlocal, the new news organization, publicly supported journalism, and the framework to support this new news economy as a whole.

We will use as our model market a hypothetical top 25 metro area in the U.S. where the sole daily newspaper has ceased publication. In short: We are asking what will fill the void. We posit that no single company or product will do that. Instead, an ecosystem made up of many players operating under many models and motives will emerge. In all cases, we are agnostic as to who owns and operates these entities: legacy or new companies, large or small. In that context, we will examine:

* The optimal hyperlocal (town or neighborhood) blog or site. We will look at how to maximize revenue to such sites, whether they are run by sole proprietors, larger startups, or established media companies. This will include helping sites provide the best and most valuable service to local advertisers; establishing local networks of fellow hyperlocal sites to increase sales and revenue opportunities; larger metro-wide networks; and exploring other revenue opportunities, such as paid models and commerce. We will look at what these sites need to succeed, such as networks, promotion by aggregators, and technology.

* The new news organization. Even after a market loses its daily paper, we believe there is an opportunity for a new news organization to be reconstituted around key journalistic roles serving the metro-area. We will project the scale of such an enterprise: its audience and revenue yielding its resources and functions: reporting, aggregation/curation, perhaps organizing the broader community and its news efforts. How many employees can a profitable, journalism-centered business support and what can and should they do? What is its relationship with other players in the ecosystem?

* Publicly supported journalism. We do not believe that any single savior– foundation, government, device, or massive public contribution — will rescue an existing news organization as it operates today from the crush of the market. But we do believe that publicly supported journalism — that is, from individuals, foundations, and perhaps companies — can play a role in this model city’s news ecosystem. This could take the form of a local Pro Publica or of crowdsourced funding through a platform such as Spot.US or of an expansion of public broadcasting’s role. The key question we will answer is what level of support will likely be available — projecting from current efforts locally — and what those resources could provide.

* The ecosystem’s framework. We will examine the supporting infrastructure this ecosystem will likely need, bringing together independent players to reach critical mass so they can recognize greater market value (in, for example, advertising networks and in mutual promotion) and greater efficiency (in, for example, technology platforms, the ability to create collaborative projects, training in journalism and sales, search-engine optimization…). Once again, we are agnostic to ownership: These functions could come from a single company (which is how we will present the model); they also could be provided by a legacy player or they could be offered by various players. To quote Mark Potts at one of our CUNY conferences, “You may want to be small, but to succeed at being small, you probably have to be part of something big.”

In addition, the project will gather and also propose a catalog of revenue models, working with those who are building systems to support paid content; interviewing local advertisers to learn more about their needs; talking with sites in the U.S. and elsewhere to learn what is working and not working for them; examining the possibilities for more unusual revenue streams such as e-commerce.

After this work is well underway and after the Aspen report in August, we plan to extend the project’s work to examine more business models, such as national and international content exchanges; interest-based sites and networks;

The project is headed at CUNY by Prof. Jeff Jarvis, head of the interactive program. Peter Hauck is project director, working with Jennifer McFadden, business analyst; business researchers Kate Albert, Gary Frangipane, Noah Xifr, Darshan Dedhia, Frank DiBartolo, and Senem Coskun of Baruch’s Lawrence N. Field Center for Entrepreneurship at the Zicklin School of Business; and reporters Matthew Sollars and Damian Ghigliotty, both graduates of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. We are grateful to the Field Center’s Edward Rogoff and Monica Dean for their support.

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5 Responses to “About the New Business Models for News Project”

  1. Curt Robinson

    12. Jun, 2009

    Well, you’re doing academic work funded by a foundation, but still your outline was so well written that I thought “what the hell, take a shot that this is somebody who actually cares about this.”

    You start, at least in one section, with the idea that a major metro daily will fold. Maybe — I don’t know how screwed up the finances really are — but I doubt it. Certainly, if such a thing happens it will have more to do with the leveraged purchase of that paper than with market or other conditions.

    And, if you just thought about the closing of Rocky Mountain New and/or the fine Seattle paper, then call the family attorney. You should immediately sue anyone who took money for your education and left you an unthinking … what’s the Lewis Black term … “meat with eyes?”

    In case it’s necessary, gods help us, let me note that both were JOAs. (Google it or use the very cool new Bing). There used to be two dozen of the abominations, now there’s a half-dozen or so. This is left out of the national narrative, of course, because it doesn’t support The Story.

    It’s interesting that your findings will be discussed in Aspen, home to part of the solution. Note the two (2) daily papers continuing their decades-long war. How can a town, even a tourist town, support two dailies?

    Both are free circulation papers. The hubris of traditional paid papers keep such “throw aways” from getting much consideration, although that didn’t stop The Washington Post from launching one a couple of years ago or The New York Times from buying a 49 percent share of the free daily Boston Metro. Yet you hear little about that “model.” Why?

    I’m guessing whoever set up your project made certain that such crazy talk was not part of the plan. It will be interesting to see how such a holistic undertaking was structured to omit free dailies. It must be hard to ignore them, since maybe five have launched in the last year despite the economy

    I know because I edit one of them, The Portland (ME) Daily Sun. And I edited the Aspen Daily News in the mid-90s … a good source on this is the NPR Foreign Editor (if they still call it that) Loren Jenkins. He’s a Pulitzer winner from the WashPost and edited the competing Aspen Times Daily when I was at the ADN.

    Is “free” the magic bullet? Nope. But what will emerge is a sort of “radio model” with many newspapers in a metro area, a sort of “back to the future” in that sense, because newspapers developed with plenty of competition. It will be a new golden age, because the lack of character in newspapers today can be traced to the lack of characters in newspapers today.

    Well, enjoy the grant funding and if I was wrong, and you don’t really give a damn, then at least it was fun to vent a bit. Beware — the news biz does not like corrections to its National Narrative.

    See you in Aspen.

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  2. Mike Mandel

    15. Jun, 2009

    >Our work begins with the assumption that there will be a market demand for quality journalism, watchdogging those in power, and that the market will find a way to meet that demand.

    From an economic perspective, that’s exactly the right assumption. Journalism is an industry where productivity has increased enormously, and demand for our basic product is still strong. It’s hard to find an industry with these characteristics which didn’t eventually succeed.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Lynn Mooney

    23. Jun, 2009

    Can you please let me know the date of the Aspen meeting. Thank you.

    [email protected]

    Reply to this comment
  4. Matthew Sollars

    25. Jun, 2009

    The Aspen Institute meeting–officially called the Forum on Communication and Society–will be held August 16 – 19.

    Read more here:
    http://www.aspeninstitute.org/policy-work/communications-society/programs-topic/culture-technology/forum-communications-society-f-5

    You’ll find the list of participants, a copy of the agenda, and registration information here:
    http://www.aspeninstitute.org/policy-work/communications-society/programs-topic/culture-technology/forum-communications-society-f-5

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