Some have asked for more detail about the MA in social journalism we are developing at CUNY. Here are major excerpts from the formal proposal that I wrote (well-edited by our dean, Sarah Bartlett). I’m sparing you sections on the facilities. The syllabi will be works in progress until we bring on the faculty to teach the courses; I’ll share those later. As ever, I am eager to hear your thoughts and questions. Link to the Google doc here; PDF here.
You will never find a finer example of a certain German business model popular in the internet age than in an open letter to Google’s Eric Schmidt written by Mathias Döpfner, head of the conservative German publishing giant Axel Springer. (English translation courtesy of the all-seeing, all-powerful Google here.)
The essence of that business model, as practiced especially by German and sometimes French legacy publishers, is to stomp their feet like pouty kindergartners missing a turn at kickball, whining “that’s not fair” and yelling that everything wrong on this playground is the fault of another kid, then running to hide behind the skirt of the teacher. That is what Döpfner does here, demonizing Google (and Mark Zuckerberg while he’s at it) for numerous perceived sins I’ll explore below and — here’s the real agenda — demanding that the European Commission rescue the dinosaurs (his word) with regulation.
What a humiliating moment it must be for a powerful businessman to admit that he cannot compete in the marketplace. The entire letter struck me as an act of economic self-castration. It must also hurt for the head of a bastion of political conservatism in Germany — the publisher of the newspaper Bild, a Fox-News-with-boobs, and the leader of the company that constructed its headquarters ass-on the Berlin Wall just to extend a middle finger to the communists across it — to now beg government (the EU at that) for regulation. You’d think Döpfner lived in San Francisco and was a dancer in clown suit blocking Google buses. This is a call for big-government interference in the market we wouldn’t see even from the Guardian or The New York Times.
There’s history here. Döpfner and Springer led a fight by German publishers to stop Google from, in their view, stealing snippets of their articles on Google News — even though, as Eric Schmidt likes to point out, Google sends 10 billion vists to publishers every month. Here, too, the big boys of publishing ran to hide behind the skirts of government, getting a law called the Leistungschutzrecht passed. That seemed like victory until all the publishers went ahead and allowed Google to quote and link to them because, to paraphrase Woody Allen, they needed the eggs. Insert pouty foot-stomping here.
In the meantime, the antitrust forces of the European Commission investigated Google and negotiated an agreement. But this doesn’t go far enough for Döpfner. And, besides, a defanged, pacified, regulated, cooperative Google is no fun if you want to kick up dust on the playground and blame someone else for all your woes. Young Döpfner needs Google to be a big, bad bully.
So in his letter, Döpfner pulls out every last stop to demonize Google. He compares Google with the Mafia, complaining that the EC’s agreement with Google — stipulating the ability of competitors to buy ads on Google — smacks of “protection money.” (Would Springer’s Bild take ads from its competitors?) But that’s nothing. Döpfner says Mark Zuckerberg views on privacy could come from the head of the Stasi (I find this trivialization of an evil regime offensive); he says Google “sits on the entire privacy of mankind like the giant Fafner in the Ring of the Nibelung;” and then, giving up is last shred of subtlety, invokes Orwell. “Forget Big Brother,” Döpfner squeals, “Google is better!”
Döpfner complains about Google’s search-engine market share, not mentioning that German users — last I knew — gave Google its second-highest penetration in the world, and he also makes its success in creating great services in video, email, and mobile sound ominous. He complains about Google’s self-driving cars competing with Volkswagen and about Google buying Nest and entering our homes. Parody comes to life:
But Döpfner goes much farther in his effort to portray Google as a dark specter overtaking Europe when he frets about Google buying drone companies and allegedly planning huge ships and floating offices operating in stateless waters and wonders whether it will create a superstate floating free of laws. “One needn’t be a conspiracy theorist,” he says, “to find this disturbing.”
Then Döpfner makes a series of recommendations that I am confident he knows are absurd, for I know Döpfner and he is as very smart man. He asks that Google reveal the quantitative criteria behinds its search algorithm, though, of course, that would only enable every spammer on earth to game Google, making it worthless as as service. He asks Google to not store IP addresses and to delete cookies after every session, making targeted advertising impossible and also making Google and its advertising business worthless. He complains about Google and other companies — singling out Jawbone — collecting and using behavioral data to support free services, concluding that “it is better and cheaper to pay with something old-fashioned: simply with money.”
Aha. That is — or was — Springer’s business model until it failed at newspapers and sold most of them, except Bild and its ever-struggling Welt — buying digital enterprises to replace them. Döpfner would like to force the world into his model: People used to buy our content with money so they must continue. To invent new models, well, that’s just not fair, is it? Anything else should be stomped out by government protecting the incumbents. There’s his real agenda.
I find this more tragic than comic. Just as Germany is moving past its reputation for being skittish with entrepreneurial risk and failure, just as it is giving up its bad habit of copycatting American internet startups rather than inventing their own, and just as Berlin’s start-up scene — very near Springer’s headquarters in what used to be the East — is coming into its own as a real creative, technical, and entrepreneurial powerhouse, here comes a titan of old industry making his nation appear technophobic, uncompetitive, and even slightly anticapitalistic.
I don’t think Döpfner believes most of what he wrote, just as Springer and its fellow travelers really didn’t believe in their Leistungschutzrecht. I heard publishers there say that they pushed for the law just so they could strengthen their negotiating position with Google. Too bad for them it didn’t work. So now Döpfner continues to play, thinking that by bullying Google in the press and with government, he can get a pity turn at kickball. But he should beware the unintended consequences of his game, affecting the reputation of Germany as a source of technological and industrial innovation and inviting greater government regulation and interference in markets.
I am surprised you fear Google, Mathias. I thought you were stronger than that.
[Disclosures: Axel Springer flew me a few years ago to speak at its managers’ retreat in Tuscany and I’ve also been engaged to speak at its headquarters. Google is flying me to its headquarters — with no other fee — in two weeks to speak to its privacy group. I own Google stock. I have always found Döpfner and the editor of Bild, Kai Diekmann, to be charming and smart and I’ve said much of what I just said here to them over wine.]
Here are links to the next parts of an essay I’ve been working on about new relationships, new forms, and new business models for news. These links are the last two bits of the section on relationships:
The earlier sections:
The entire essay will try to answer the question I often hear in one form or another: “Now that your damned internet has ruined news, what now?” I don’t pretend to make predictions, only to explore opportunities. It’s on Medium. Now I have to get to work on the next piece, about new forms.
Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile writes an important piece about bad media metrics online. He pokes holes in the value of the click as the be-all-and-end-all of media measurement. He reveals that sharing turns out to be a bad measurement of engagement and value because we often don’t read what we “like” or share (we just bother other people with it). He deflates the value of native advertising, demonstrating with hard data that readers understand the difference between real content and — let’s call it what it is — advertising and they quickly abandon it.
The bottom line of Tony’s data is bad news for cynical publishers who have tried to manipulate readers with link-bait headlines and lists, and who are trying to pull the wool over advertisers’ eyes by selling them link-bait listicles and so-called native advertising. Certain emperors have no clothes. The readers know it. The advertisers will wake up and realize it.
But that’s the bad news.
Where we should turn the discussion next is to what the right metrics for media should be. As they say, you get what you measure. So what should we measure? How do we create positive feedback loops that improve the news, not degrade it as unique users, pageviews, and other relics of mass media have done?
I’ll start with the most important and most difficult thing to measure: outcomes. Were people more informed because of what we gave them? Did they accomplish what they wanted as individuals (Sally got new health insurance and saved money) or as communities (Riverdale cleaned up that messy park)? I just had breakfast with Robert Rosenthal of the Center for Investigative Reporting and he told me they start the process of reporting by considering impact and they end by trying to measure it. Why deal in bad proxies for good journalism, based on popularity, when we could get to the reason journalism should exist: to improve the world?
In his book News: A User’s Manual, Alain de Botton says that news has “the power to assemble the picture that citizens end up having of one another; the power to dictate what our idea of ‘other people’ will be like; the power to invent a nation in our imaginations.” And it has the power to help us get there. (Many more quotes in my post about the book, here.) Mark Zuckerberg says that platforms, including news, should offer communities “elegant organization.” These are higher aspirations than mere exposure.
On a tour of technology companies in Silicon Valley a few weeks ago with my dean, we talked about metrics and found different measurements being used for different platforms with different goals. Ev Williams’ Medium values total time spent reading. That is appropriate for a platform that wants to get people to explore ideas in depth — and I find I’m spending more time there reading more posts; it’s working.
Attention, in the form of time spent, is used by many in media as a measure of engagement. But that’s not always the case. Attention can also be another egocentric media metric: how many people come to look at my stuff; how many pages of my stuff do they look at; how much time do they spend with my stuff? No, sometimes, the less time spent the better. What if news were more efficient? Sometimes, spending less time to get what I want is the right metric. That metric doesn’t serve the old media business model of delivering as many eyeballs to as many ads as possible. That is why Yahoo shifted from — in the words of cofounder Jerry Yang — getting you in and out with the answer you needed as quickly as possible to instead trying to bombard you with content and keep you around as long as possible to show you as many ads as possible. Attention, in the wrong hands, can also be a corrupting metric.
Cir.ca has a fascinating metric: follows. When a reader follows a story, she is telling Cir.ca, “Please bother me and let me know when something new happens here.” That is a measure of true interest.
Similarly, Flipboard keeps track of how many people subscribe to a publication — and even to an advertiser’s publication. It also watches what people “flip” or save to read later, which strikes me as a much better indication of interest than sharing.
Google has long valued links as a digital version of citation. That has served search well. Google News also uses citations to try to infer which news organization created or is staying on top of a story — if everyone writing about Walter Reed Army Medical Center quotes the Washington Post then there’s a good chance it’s the Post’s story.
Repost.US and YouTube and now Getty Images track embeds — how many people truly want to share a video or an article because they repost it in their own space on the web. The problem with just “liking” or “sharing” on Twitter and Facebook is that there turns out to be no cost for those transactions; it’s too easy to just keep passing things on. Embedding uses my space and affected my reputation with you. I would like to see more such higher friction means of sharing that really do impute engagement.
What is engagement? It’s likely not one measure of one method of interacting with content. It could be that I spend time with something, that I interact with it or the people gathered around it (though don’t we know that comments are no indication of quality), that I save it, that I take action based on it.
We want to find good proxies for engagement in the hopes that they will lead us to indications of quality, which in turn should tell us something about the authority of the creator and the trust the public has in her. None of these is easy to measure, like “likes.”
Another word for engagement is relationship. I have been arguing that we in news should stop seeing ourselves as content factories and start seeing ourselves as members of our communities who are in the relationship business, who use what we know about people to better serve them. Thus, I ask media companies how many relationships they have with the people they serve and what they know about them — what signals they have, enabling them to improve relevance and thus value and often impact. Those are metrics that start with the public rather than with media. Those are metrics that matter.
My two recent posts about philanthropy and the news touched a nerve among not-for-profit news gatherers, leading to a podcast conversation with Scott Lewis, head of Voice of San Diego (starting at about :22), and a response by Steve Waldman. Laura Walker, the CEO of New York Public Radio, also asked to respond here. Laura is a brilliant businesswoman who could run rings around any for-profit media executive. She also made a big announcement today about a $10 million grant to fund digital innovation. I don’t usually hand this space over to anyone else, but I happily give it to Laura here:
Your post “Philanthropy and News” and related tweets have sparked an important conversation about the role of philanthropy in journalism. I wholeheartedly agree with you that philanthropy should help build sustainable models in journalism that have diverse revenue streams. As you often point out, business thinking and revenue generation are critical to the future of our industry.
But, I don’t agree at all with your statement: “Every time a rich person gives to a news nonprofit, a journalism startup loses its wings.” Philanthropic giving to nonprofit news doesn’t compete with investment in for-profit news startups. It’s not “an either/or” scenario as to who will survive. More importantly, philanthropic support for journalism has provided seed funding for successful models of nonprofit journalism, including public radio. Models of success do exist!
Here’s how I see it:
• Philanthropic grants are not taking away capital from startups. The motivations and reasons for venture funding are fundamentally different from philanthropy. Both can be an investment in the future of news and work together to enhance overall quality in journalism.
• Investment in nonprofit journalism can be an investment in sustainable journalism. Already today, philanthropy is seed funding important work and sustainability in journalism; just look at public radio, ProPublica and The Texas Tribune. To be sure, many nonprofit journalism enterprises have failed, and many don’t have business leadership. Just as with a for-profit investment, it is critical that philanthropic investors “kick the tires” on the leadership of nonprofits to make sure that a business plan has been created and sustainability can be achieved.
• Hands down, the most successful sustainable nonprofit model is public radio, and it is too often overlooked by you and others. Public radio, with some 1,200 reporters including NPR and stations around the country, has diverse revenue streams, uses venture philanthropy, and through collaboration offers national scale, local relevance and powerful enterprise journalism.
Let’s take New York Public Radio as an example:
Diverse Revenue Streams
• Our journalism and radio programs are sustained through the contributions of 175,000+ members, corporate underwriting, events, fees from other public radio stations, as well as institutional giving and major donor gifts.
• Institutional giving and major donor gifts are just pieces of a diversified revenue model that is built to promote long-term sustainability and impact.
• Philanthropy often seeds new ideas and helps create an infrastructure for them.Then, we sustain these efforts over time in concert with other diverse revenue sources. Philanthropic contributions from the Charles H. Revson Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Ford Foundation, Jerome L. Greene Foundation, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and others have acted as venture funding to seed projects like our Stop and Frisk coverage, our Data News unit,Radiolab, The Takeaway, and our New Jersey news unit, as well as the creation of digital apps that are designed for how people consume news today.
• This approach fuels just the type of innovation you are calling for and has resulted in journalism that has won many awards, including three Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Awards and seven George Foster Peabody Awards in the last several years.
• “Philanthropy and News” also highlighted the need for collaboration within the news ecosystem – to both innovate and best serve audiences. At its heart, the public radio system is based on a collaborative reporting model – stations working with NPR and other national outlets to cover breaking news and to offer an expansive national report.
• Then, there are projects and efforts within the system like Fronteras along the border, The Takeaway and the New Jersey News Commons, in which our New Jersey Public Radio service plays a leading role, working with NJ Spotlight, Montclair State University’s journalism program and other news providers, small and large, new and established.
• Sometimes we compete and sometimes we collaborate, but as a recent J-Lab study noted: “Public media outlets play an important role for news startups. A partnership with a public broadcaster amplifies their journalism and validates their efforts in ways that can help their sustainability.”
We both agree that building sustainability in journalism is essential. We should learn from all the models before us – the ones that failed, the successful ones that currently exist, and the experiments being taken up by for-profit startups and fueled by philanthropy in the nonprofit sector. For an example of sustainable nonprofit journalism, just listen to your radio.
Glenn Greenwald has responded to Pando Daily’s story about the Omidyar Network and Ukraine with the force and speed we have come to expect. Good. Now I also wish he and his colleagues would turn around, ignore Pando, and create a statement of principles, a compact with the public. Greenwald begins that in his last paragraph of the Pando post:
But what I do know is that I would never temper, limit, suppress or change my views for anyone’s benefits – as anyone I’ve worked with will be happy to tell you – and my views on such interference in other countries isn’t going to remotely change no matter the actual facts here. I also know that I’m free to express those views without the slightest fear. And I have zero doubt that that’s true of every other writer at The Intercept. That’s what journalistic independence means.
That is still reactive to Pando. I would like to see a positive statement of principles: What we stand for. What we guarantee you we will always do and never do. What we will disclose to you….
You could say that we already have journalistic principles, plenty of them, produced by no end of journalism practitioners, professors, and blatherers like me. Very true.
But as Greenwald and others reinvent journalism, it is good to rethink and reassert principles. It is a useful exercise for any journalistic organization: for a reimagined New York Times or a newly invented First Look or Pando or even Gawker. What do you stand for? What assurances to you give us, the public you serve, that we can and should trust you? What can we expect of you?
Greenwald’s principles would not match those of fusty old American journalistic institutions. Start with the obvious: He takes stands. He has a perspective. He measures his value by his impact. (And I endorse those principles.) That is his raison d’être. What is theirs?
Now Greenwald also says that the views and actions of his funder don’t matter because he promises he won’t let them matter (see: principles above) and besides, all rich people have views and entanglements and — to paraphrase a classic Woody Allen joke — we need the eggs. Well…..
There are limits. I pulled my last book, Public Parts, from Harper Collins because I was being critical of and did not want to be subject to the control of Rupert Murdoch. There are others I would not work for and some I am sure Greenwald would not work for (even if they would hire him). I worked for others I should have liked — like Time Inc. — but threatened to resign when I disapproved of what they did. I know my limits.
So there is another step needed here: We need to hear from the funders, the moguls, to give us first transparency and then assurances.
Now in Pierre Omidyar’s case, I pointed out yesterday as Greenwald did today that it took only .3 milliseconds in a Google search to find that the Omidyar Network had funded civil society groups in Ukraine; they sent out a press release about it in 2011. I’m not sure what Pando’s revelation was, except perhaps to make the connection with USAID, though that’s also discoverable. Given Omidyar’s and his network’s vast activities, it’s hard to say that they could create a single transparency document (like simple me). Instead, it is better that they operate under a principle of revealing their financial involvements and making them transparent to Google search.
But what we could have is assurances from both sides of a financial transaction: not only the journalists assure us of their independence, as Greenwald does, but also that the funders guarantee that independence. It would be good for Greenwald et al to write the statement of principles and for Omidyar to endorse it.
When I wrote a post about philanthropy’s relationship to news this week, I had a sixth guideline I should have left in: Charity brings strings. Journalists like to think that they can get manna from heaven to rescue them from the nasty commerce of marketing and advertising, of earning audience and revenue, of sustainability. But as the Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger has pointed out, it was advertising that freed journalism from the control of political entities and gave them independence.
Now journalists are seeking patronage once more. They need to take those checks with eyes wide open and they need to have a conversation with the public about the implications for them and the journalism they serve to us.
On a trip to Silicon Valley with my new dean, Sarah Bartlett, I heard technology people express concern about the state of news. That is good of them, for they have had a role in the disruption of news — and I’m glad they have. Now they need to consider taking the fruits of their technology and the innovation, efficiency, productivity, profitability, and wealth it has created and turn some of it and their attention toward the good of society and perhaps, with it, journalism.
But not as philanthropists. That was my plea to them. We in journalism need them to bring their innovation and investment to news, to teach us how to see and exploit new opportunities to improve news and sustain it. More on the role of technologists another day.
Today, I want to talk about the role of philanthropy. As I was thinking about my trip to the Bay Area — and in the midst of a magnum opus Twitter conversation about the future of news sparked and stoked by Marc Andreessen — I tweeted this:
Every time a rich person gives to a news nonprofit, a journalism startup loses its wings.
— Jeff Jarvis (@jeffjarvis) February 10, 2014
My good friend Jay Rosen got angry with me, accusing me of being hostile to nonprofit news.
Not true, I replied. I am expressing a preference. Given a source of capital and given the state of innovation in news and media — this is 1472 in Gutenberg years — I prefer to see that precious resource go first to sustainability. Don’t buy a hungry man a fish — or a news-starved community another article. Don’t just teach them to fish. Build the damned fishing boats.
A few months ago, I went to an event in Washington for nonprofit news organizations put on by the Knight Foundation and Pew. Again and again, we heard that the problem with too many of these good organizations is that they put no resource into development — whether fundraising or sponsorship or events. I often hear journalists say that every dollar they get should go straight into reporting; anything else feels practically immoral to them. But so is letting their good work die and disappear: no more fish, no fishing boats, just fishwrap.
I also hear journalists say that they don’t want to concern themselves with the business of journalism. Clearly, I disagree. That is precisely why I started the Tow-Knight Center in Entrepreneurial Journalism.
In New Jersey, I have been doing a lot of work alongside the Dodge Foundation, Montclair State, and others to try to build the foundation for a sustainable news ecosystem that can grow and improve. We are working with sites to make them profitable by improving the services they sell to local merchants, by experimenting with new revenue streams like events, by building a network to share content and audience and — soon, I hope — advertising. We just received $2 million from Knight and one of their wise conditions was that we not spend the money on operations — on buying more stories — but instead on building infrastructure. That is why we are hiring a sustainability director to manage just that. (Know anyone who’d be great at the job?)
So I do see a role for philanthropy in news, an important role. But I’ll caution journalists — as will every foundation I know — that there is not enough money in the endowments of all the foundations interested in supporting news to pay for the work that needs to be done. Similarly, charity and patronage from individuals and companies can do much, whether that is supporting the work of public radio or now crowdfunding a worthy project from a journalist. But neither can that do it all. Charity runs out. That resource is precious and should go where it is most needed.
So now I’ll have the temerity to propose not rules but suggested guidelines for the use and role of philanthropy in news:
1. Philanthropy should support that which the market will not support. And it should wait patiently to determine what that is. In other words, just because something is not being done now does not mean that philanthropy should swoop in and take it over if the market may find opportunity in it.
2. Philanthropy should not compete with the market. We heard this some years ago when a new non-for-profit news entity sprouted in San Francisco and an executive at the crippled Chronicle complained that it could kill the paper. Thank goodness for the paper, the charity was worse run than it and the paper outlasted it.
3. Philanthropy should help build the economic sustainability and independence of news. Here’s the most self-serving thing I will say from my perch in a university: This includes training the next generation of news innovators. It also includes investing in infrastructure and innovation, new methods and models. Innovation in news requires patient capital that will fund not losses but instead experiments and daring failures. Philanthropy can do that.
4. Philanthropy — and journalism , too — should measure its success by the outcomes it accomplishes. Journalists have something to learn from foundations here: It’s not enough to produce content and build audience. Journalism has to help communities better themselves. That starts with listening to the public and its needs.
5. Charity is finite. Yes, you can start a news organization on charity. Yes, we could support a great deal of the investigative reporting we have philanthropically. But I am more ambitious than that; the need is greater. The souce for investigative reporting is (1) whistleblowers and (2) beat reporting. We need to support beats at scale. That’s why I’m doing the work I’m doing in New Jersey and why I’m starting a new training program for beat businesses in a box. Charity doesn’t scale. Sustainability does.
Philanthropy is precious, important, useful. It is a gift to use well and wisely. It isn’t an excuse not do do our jobs. And our job is to rebuild journalism into a service that will last.