The balance shifts

Posted on 12. Nov, 2009 by in News Ecosystem

At yesterday’s New Business Models for (Local) News summit at CUNY, I ran what I called a reverse panel with big media folks – NY Times, Washington Post, Gannett, Star-Ledger, Impremedia, Politico – sitting up front but ordered to listen to the wishes and needs of the people in the room. I threatened to cover the big guys’ mouths with duct tape. (A few of them seemed to honestly fear I would do that. I do need to investigate this reputation I’ve garnered.)

The putative war between mainstream media and bloggers has been declared over again and again (myself, I reported a truce three and a half years ago… oh, well). So I won’t act as there aren’t still the lone snipers in the mountains. Bloggers from medium-sized cities had plenty of complaints about the disrespect they see from their local medium-sized media outlets.

But importantly, I did see a shift in the balance of power yesterday. The big media guys on this reverse panel made it crystal clear that they not only respect but need the work of the bloggers/citizens/little-media-guys/whatever you choose to call them. The big guys acknowledged openly that they are shrinking and can no longer even pretend that they can do it all themselves.

For their part, the bloggers also made it clear that they respect and thus want attention – promotion and credit – from the big guys.

Group hug.

We are at various fulcrum points. The big, old media outlets can no longer act as if they have no problems; it’s obvious, they do. The upstarts are beginning to catch a glimmer of critical mass; we see blogs starting up all over and there are lots of new news organizations – most of them not-for-profit – rising in San Diego, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Austin; now they are joined by the for-profit local Politico. Even if you disagree with me that the future of news is entrepreneurial, there’s now no denying there is a future there.

And so the room was filled with people who were, each in his or her own way, building that future and they all recognized that they have to work together to do so. The future of news is also an ecosystem. That’s what became apparent yesterday and that, for me, was the highlight of the event.

* * *

We’re doing our post-mortems on the event at CUNY to figure out what to do better next time – and it’s clear there is a need for more of these gatherings here in New York and, we hope, across the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, bringing together builders. We heard a lot from the room about what they want next: More best practices from the kind of real experience that fed our models…. More practical advice for making money…. More education…. I’ll come back with additional thoughts after my thorough-going exhaustion wears off.

My personal thanks to the team at CUNY – led by Peter Hauck, Jennifer McFadden, and Matt Sollars – for doing great work in the models and the event and to the funders who made it possible: The MacArthur Foundation funded the events (and the prior summit led directly to a request to do the work we presented at this one); the Knight Foundation funded the work on our models and presentation of them at the Aspen Institute; the McCormick Foundation is funding ongoing work on new business models; and the Carnegie Corporation is funding work on hyperlocal labs. We’re also grateful to Mignon Media – Nancy Wang and Jeff Mignon – for their incredible work on the models; David Cohn for his tireless efforts helping us organize the events; Borrell Associates for their data and advice; and all the companies and individuals who participated yesterday. And we want to thank Ted Mann of inJersey/Gannett and Jim Schachter of The New York Times and their colleagues for helping to organize the event. Thanks.

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2 Responses to “The balance shifts”

  1. Charlotte-Anne Lucas

    13. Nov, 2009

    Jeff –
    One thing you could address next time is the appalling gender disparity on your panels.
    Women who have actually “done it” — run sustainable and profitable online news sites — are not that hard to find.
    There are a bunch of us.
    (See the lineup at New Media Women Entrepreneurs Summit this week:
    You can and should do better.

  2. Tracy in W. Seattle

    15. Nov, 2009

    We were interviewed as part of the research but I don’t recall hearing about the actual conference, and funny thing is, I was relatively close by – J-Lab brought me cross-country to D.C. for the conference that Charlotte-Anne mentioned, just two days earlier. While I was there, Debbie Galant mentioned this event. Too late for me to reorganize the travel schedule and try to crash Newbiz.

    I’m glad Debbie was part of it; but as one of the other hyperlocal news entrepreneurs (we are NOT “bloggers”!!!!!) bringing in six figures, we might have had something to contribute, not to mention helping balance the problem pointed out by Charlotte-Anne.

    Instead, I listened to some of the stream while working back at home base that day; the last panel with Old Media Facing Off With New Media was the best part – in our little corner of the world, our traffic/readership/participation exponentially outstrips the local old-media outlet, which has gone through stages of ignoring/dismissing us and then demeaning us, none of which has proven to be particularly beneficial for their business.