The near future

Posted on 07. Dec, 2009 by in News Ecosystem

Xark raised fair and unfair criticism of our work at the New Business Models for News Project. I’ll respond:

Xarc’s Dan Conover says that the models we presented look a lot like present models, only different. Fair and true. Our goal was to look at what news in a metro market would look like if the large daily paper died today. — not in the la-la land of the future of news and media I often write about here (more on that in a minute) — but today.

So we based our assumptions on known realities: on local bloggers who are making a living and how they are doing it today, on new news organizations that are springing up today, on the proportion of digital revenue being earned today.

If you’ve heard any of my presentations of the models, you have heard me lament that we chose to work in the lingua franca of the present: CPM-based display advertising and criminally low engagement numbers that are sinfully standard in the newspaper business. Neither is good enough. But we wanted to use a language and precedents that people in this space would understand. We then pushed development of new models for revenue and of networks that must be used to increase value.

Conover says that without an “exit strategy” a hyperlocal blog is not a business but merely a job. With respect, he is judging the entrepreneurial future of news through old, institutional glasses. Much of the work of very local journalism will be done by these new, single-proprietor businesses (and volunteers). If we took his perspective, then there would be little potential in the restaurant, drycleaning, plumbing, or dental industries because many of their practitioners have no exit strategy, only sustainable jobs. Welcome to the new, small-is-the-new-big world. This is precisely why we propose that critical mass will be reached not with old companies owning the market but with new companies operating together in networks. See: Glam, the largest women’s brand online. New model.

Conover is fair to say that the future – not today but tomorrow – won’t look much like the present, including the present we postulate in our models. I do indeed agree that the future could look wildly different. I have speculated about systems for sharing information that will reduce the marginal cost of news to zero with journalists adding value only where appropriate and where that value can be recouped. I have blathered on and on about hyperpersonal news streams replacing the article as the atomic unit of news. I have predicted a world with networked journalism, news made by Wave, and similar outlandishness. If I had tried to present all that as a vision for the news of today – the day a paper dies – I would have blown brains and been laughed out of Aspen and with good reason. But that was not the goal of the New Business Models for News Project. It was to get people to see a new today.

Believe me, Dan, if you want to have a future-shock derby with far out ideas for what news will look in the future but sooner than we think, then I’m happy to compete. But that wasn’t our job here.

And don’t blame the funder of our work for that. Connover is unfair to slap the Knight Foundation, which paid for the first phase of this work, saying: “In the short term, foundation money is likely to continue producing studies based on business models that reflect conventional wisdom about media.” The Knight Foundation did not tell us how to envision our models; that is an allegation without evidence.

It’s particularly unfair since the Knight Foundation – more than any other foundation – has been aggressively pushing inventors to imagine and create new visions and realities for news. The Knight Foundation generally does not favor institutions over entrepreneurs; quite the contrary. You’re free to judge my defense of Knight in light of the fact that they did fund this phase of my work. But I think Knight’s work defends itself.

So, yes, Dan, I do agree that the models were based on present realities. That was precisely what we set out to do: to envision an immediate future that will be credible in present terms. But I also take the challenge to envision more futures for news and – if you watched my presentations – you’d see some I hope to work on. I want to examine the workings of the link economy I talk about so much and prescribe how to exploit it. I want to examine new content exchange models. I want to examine entirely new forms of news and the exchange of information.

This Wednesday in my entrepreneurial journalism class at CUNY, my students will present to a jury 15 businesses, some of which begin to imagine fairly radical new visions of news. They hope to win some of the $50,000 in seed money we have from another foundation, McCormick. And then they hope to go build those businesses and make them sustainable the day after tomorrow. Thursday, that is.

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2 Responses to “The near future”

  1. Thomas

    10. Dec, 2009

    I’d argue that the future of news is already here: It’s just that it’s so radically different from old news that you can’t recognize it. Services that aggregate data across demographic and/or geographic perspectives have come to possess informational value that people want. Someone’s luke-warm and underinformed opinions is a news model that people are rejecting.
    So, the new news is composed of streams and data aggregated in interesting ways: my facebook stream is news, my twitter stream is news, data about recent real estate transactions in my neighborhood is news. Reading some idiot who knows nothing about real estate try and interpret that data and give me an opinion on it is not news for me anymore.
    This implies that all of the journalists seeking the “new journalism model” have really missed the boat. People no longer want carefully crafted opinions based on a passing understanding of the underlying issues. They want the data so that they can draw their own conclusions.
    Want a business model? Aggregate scarce data that is valuable to your reader in a way that allows them to draw insights that are meaningful for their lives. That’s a new journalism model that is already working.

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