Charges to the groups

Posted on 13. Oct, 2008 by in Groups, Networks, News Organization, Newsroom, Public Support, Revenue, Uncategorized

After presentations on network models and new structures for news companies plus a lightening round of presentation by entrepreneurs and executives who are executing new models, we will form into Aspen-Institute-like groups (without the sylvan scenery) to tackle five assignments in the afternoon. Their rappateurs and leaders will report back to the entire group with discussion (before our reception). These assignments may overlap – e.g., a network could be intertwined with a new newsroom structure and a new corporate structure with new ad models. Here are the assignments; please leave comments to amend, correct, amplify, redirect….

* Networks – Define network models that would work today: Who is in them, what kind of relationships the members have, what value and benefit each party recognizes, how they are supported….

What kinds of networks: ad, content, promotional, national, hyperlocal, niche?

How can networks protect journalism? More important, how can they expand the reach of journalism even as journalistic organizations shrink?

Networks alone are not the salvation of journalism – there is, of course, no single salvation. But we contend that the network model has not been explored and experimented with enough. Glam (whose CEO, Samir Arora will present in the morning) gives us one example. Forbes, also in attendance, has started blog ad networks. What are more aggressive network models? Perhaps the group would like to take one or two examples and build them out. For example, how could a collaborative and curated network of contributers form a local news and advertising network? How could a niche network about, say, the environment be organized to maximize quality and revenue?

* Newsrooms – Create a model for a new (and smaller and more efficient) newsroom: size, functions, job descriptions, relationships with the community, financial relationships, cost.

This task can start with finding new efficiencies (are there any TV critics left?).

But it should go beyond that to re-envision the newsroom and its role. What is the value of the newsroom in the future? What are the core functions of a newsroom? What new roles are there – curation, education, organization? How does it operate? Is there still a room (and why?)? What is produced by staff vs. freelancers vs. members of a network vs. outsiders (e.g., bloggers)?

There are a few ways to tackle and present this. Perhaps the group might want to produce a spreadsheet laying out a hypothetical newsroom staff today and tomorrow, with job descriptions and numbers. Perhaps the group might also want to map coverage and look at who would be doing what in a new newsroom structure.

Our belief is that too often, newsroom managers are stuck with quick decisions to make cuts as budgets worsen without the opportunity to plan the future of the newsroom, training staff for new tasks and skills, finding and creating relationships with outsiders to collaborate, redefining the product and the newsroom with it. The group should act as if it has that opportunity to think strategically.

* News organizations – Present one or more new models for a news company. Where is its value? What are its key functions? What are its relationships with other functions (e.g., distribution, ad sales, marketing)? Is it even a company or is it a network or a consortium or a cooperative?

Edward Roussel and Dave Morgan will present their proposals in the morning. Perhaps the group would like to jump off those and put flesh on their skeletons, or perhaps it will want to create entirely new models. It would be wonderful for the group to return with some prospective structures for news organizations – both reworked versions of incumbents and entirely new, from-scratch news organizations.

Note that we do not intend this to be a replay of the discussion we often have about funding and ownership and their impact – that is, the impact of the public market, the hopes put in the idea of private ownership (well, until recently) or charitable support. Let’s put that to the side and instead act as if we own or are starting a news organization and can structure it however we like to maximize sustainability.

* Revenue – Define best prospects for revenue to pursue as companies, networks, or the industry as a whole and what is needed to do that.

This, of course, is the most important task, the one upon which all others hang. Unfortunately, we bring the least suggestions to the task. If any of us had the key to unlock this secret, we’d be on the other side of that door already, eh?

The group may want to define where the value is in news today. It may want to define and explore new opportunities for revenue. It may want to seek ways to maximize value and look at what is needed to accomplish that – e.g., new measurements, new models.

What are new models for advertising? How can networks bring greater value? Is there any scarcity anymore? Are there side-door revenue opportunities other than advertising (e.g., sales of data on knowledge of constituents)?

* Public support – Define the best opportunities for public support (from readers and foundations). Be realistic.

As our funder for this conference will be quick to remind participants, foundations are not the salvation of journalism. There isn’t enough money. It’s not sustainable. Frankly, we debated having a session on this topic at the summit just because too many hopes are hung on wishes for white knights who’ll never come. But we decided that there are opportunities for the public to support certain functions of journalism and there are new models to do that – e.g., and – and so we are convening a group on the topic. But we will urge that group to be harshly pragmatic.

The group may want to start asking what elements of journalism would be the most likely for public support – investigative, beat, collaborative projects.

We suggest the group look at the cost of creating such journalism today. And how much should it cost?

What sources of funding might there be? So far, most foundation support is national. How could local journalism be aided?

What should the relationship of public v. private journalism be – that is, how should a for-profit newspaper in a town relate to not-for-profit efforts?

Perhaps the group may want to suggest pilot projects in this area.



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