Posts about Book

Cutting up the newsroom

As an exercise for the upcoming New Business Models for News conference at CUNY, I want to take Dave Morgan’s suggestion about cutting up newspapers into four companies — content, production, distribution, sales — and explore the idea of breaking up a newsroom into two companies around two separate functions: gathering and packaging (that is, reporting and editing), each freed to work independently. That last bit is the important change: this means they can work with anyone.

So the packagers’ job would be to find the best news and information for their audience no matter where it comes from: a former colleague reporter, a blogger, a competitor, a TV guy, a print guy, a witness with a camera phone, an expert commentator. You tell them that it is their job to provide the best possible package — or feed — of news for their audience using all available sources and tools — including technology and social networks.

The gatherers’ job is to report. But to stand out and succeed in this post-commodified news market, they can’t just do the stories everybody else is doing. They’ll need to do what is unique and valuable so they get packaged by the packagers. But this also means that anyone can package them: they can produce stories for what was known as a newspaper or for a TV broadcaster and for their blogs.

So how does this economy work? I think it’s a network model. When the packager takes up and presents the gatherer’s content in whole and monetizes it — mostly with advertising — they share revenue. When the packager just links, the gatherer monetizes that traffic, likely as part of an ad network as well.

The hope is that quality wins. Left purely to traffic, that may not be the case. Paris Hilton would win. But that’s where the role of the packager come in — the editor with the reliable brand who went to the trouble to find the best news from the best sources and to add value through vetting and packaging. If you go to that packager because of that value, then the sources the packager uses will get more attention. That, I think, is how news brands survive and succeed: by reliably bringing you the best package and feed of news that matters to you from the best sources. The packagers are now motivated to assure that there are good sources; they want the network to expand and they want quality to be rewarded.

Now, of course, these roles can remain a hybrid. Look at Paid Content, which both gathers and packages. Any good reporter in the future will not only report but will also link to sources and background. An editor who vets and corrects a story is doing so through reporting.

But for the sake of rethinking newsrooms, I still think it’s worthwhile to explore this idea of separating and freeing the functions of the newsroom. We separated them before by medium: print v. digital. But the public isn’t looking at the world that way, only the owners of media did. News is news. That’s why they are being merged back together. But when they are remerged, old roles, old models, old processes, and old politics tend to win out. Print is bigger and older and so it wins. And the organization doesn’t truly change. Also, the organization doesn’t open up to the web and its ecology of links, which bring efficiencies and value not possible in a closed media model. So by freeing these functions to work with the best, wherever it is, and by making their success dependent on that, we really start to reorganize news for the webbed world.

This is the kind of rethinking that should be happening before layoffs come to newsrooms — note today that the New York Times, with America’s most crowded newsroom, just joined that trend with a cut of 100. If this rethinking of the newsroom happens first, instead of announcing layoffs, you might be announcing investments in new external news operations started by reporters who go independent. Andrew Ross Sorkin could start a helluva business in reporting on Wall Street deals that could grow bigger than it can now at the Times — and the Times could invest and own a piece of it and still be motivated to make it big. Ditto the columnists. Ditto Saul Hansell and his Bits blog. And once freed, these excellent journalists could make TV reports for WNBC and finally add some substance to it. Online, reporters’ brands are becoming more prominent and the ruboff of brand value is reversing: reporters were once — and still are — better off for having the Times brand behind them but the Times is also better off having new brands like Freakonomics and Brian (TVNewser) Stelter associated with it.

Pollyanna optimism? Maybe. But we need to start with a new goal and then work back to see whether and how it would be possible to get there. Instead, we’re just waiting for Mr. Grim Reaper to knock on the door with an announcement of layoffs. We need to outrun him.

Reverse syndication

In the story about their layoffs today, the New York Times mentioned, as it often does, that the Baghdad bureau costs them $3 million a year.

I’ve been wondering about a new way to help support that bureau: reverse syndication.

Now, the Times supports that work not with advertising associated with it directly — who wants to associated a brand with war? — but by doing the other things — food, entertainment, autos, homes — that bring in the money. And it runs a syndicate in which it sells its stories to other news organizations. But I know from my time in newspaper online sites that syndication is a dying business as newspapers cut back all the costs they can and as the web link pretty much obsoletes the model: Why buy the content when people can get it to already online?

So how about turning that model around: Let’s say the Times says to Tribune company that it will provide all the reporting on Iraq for Tribune’s readers. But instead of charging Tribune for syndication, the Times pays Tribune a share of the ad revenue it gets from traffic Tribune sends to the Times. Tribune, which is also engaging in layoffs, can’t afford to do everything anymore and so it has to do what it does best and link to the rest. Granted that the ad revenue on a Baghdad story won’t be great but added traffic would add revenue and would help.

And if this model works, wouldn’t Tribune also want to link to Wall Street coverage from the Times. Or the Wall Street Journal and Reuters could compete for that traffic. There’s a church-state question here: Would Tribune be motivated to link to any of these three because they have the best coverage or because they pay the best commission? Given equal quality, the best commission will win. But Tribune has to give its readers the best links to the best coverage or its readers will seek those links elsewhere. So I think quality will succeed.

(This is the first of two posts exploring new models for the business of news — I’d love to see you explore more. I also want to give credit for inspiring this to Jim Kennedy, the head of strategy at the Associated Press, who drew a similar model when I first brought Daylife to meet him as he tried to figure out how we as an industry could help support quality coverage from local papers that right now aren’t motivated to take national traffic since they can’t monetize it well. This may be a model that addresses that.)

Google’s killer crowdsourcing tool

I just created a questionnaire asking what you would kill in a newspaper’s budget if you had to cut costs. Please do go fill it out now.

This is made possible by the new Google Forms, which enables you to create web or email forms people can fill out, with the results pouring into a spreadsheet. This is incredible for surveys and other projects in which you want to gather a lot of data — like WNYC’s Are You Being Gouged project. It’s so simple but so powerful.

(Inspired by Steve Rubel)

The internet is the social network

Google has released a social-graph API, which in theory — though, unfortunately, not in practice — is what the internet is all about: relationships and connections.

I’ve said it before:

The internet doesn’t need more social networks. The internet is the social network. We have our identities, interests, reputations, relationships, information, and lives here, and we’re adding more every day. The network enabler that manages to help us tie these together to find not just connections or email addresses or information or songs but people — friends, colleagues, teachers, students, partners, lovers — across this open world, that will be the owner of the biggest network of them all: The Google of people.

So with its social-graph API, is Google trying to become the Google of people (or beat Facebook to it)? Yes, but the problem is that this relies on explicit, semantic links we just don’t use. It wants us to include rel= links when we link to someone defining the relationship. I just don’t see that happening. Sometime ago, the semantic folks wanted us to put vote links in (marking them as positive or negative); it never took off.

Here’s Brad Fitzpatrick of Google explaining the API:

I believe the killer social graph app will be the one that sniffs and understands our relationships without our having to take explicit action or by exploiting the actions we take for different reasons. Facebook exists to help us organize our friendships and in the process of doing that, it knows who are friends are (unless you’re one of those who befriends everyone). When I take pictures of people on Flickr or Facebook and they get tagged, it must mean I was there with them. When I tag them, it must mean I know them. When people follow me on Twitter — and vice versa — a relationship of mutual interest is defined. When I join a group at Facebook or Yahoo, another relationship of interest is there. When I go to a MeetUp with someone, both interest and physical meeting are established. When I link to someone’s blog, that, too, defines a relationship and the definition becomes only more explicit if we know who writes that blog and whether they have any other relationship with me. On my blog, I want to link you to the other things I do online, my other identities, and I can do that through ClaimID. Witness:

My claimID jeff jarvis

When you put all those relationships together with my identity and the actions among us, you start to draw the real social graph, the true social network that is the internet.

OK, so what? What benefit is that to me or anyone else? Well, it’s another way to visualize and manage my relationships. We can layer on this content and memes and see where they start and how they spread and that starts to define leadership and curiosity and credibility.

The internet is less about content than relationships and teh true social graph will show us those relationships.

Reinventing Sears

Newsday’s Ellis Hennican writes today about a notion for reviving the still-and-forever-flagging Sears: turn it into an annuity membership with which you get a lifetime string of and repair of updated TVs, lawnmowers, whatever. This is not unlike Interface Inc.’s program of leasing carpeting. In essence, this is the cable-box model the old telephone model: they own the device and rent it to us. — and that’s the problem with it, since those programs were and are ripoffs. But in this case, there’s no monopoly. So the real question is, do we trust Sears to survive.

I like this discussion of reinventing companies and industries in the digital age. Here’s my proposal for the social airline. I’ll write one soon about retail.

Davos08: The Google environment

The other day, I live-blogged the Google Foundation conversation about its work in energy and other areas. What fascinated me was seeing a world as run by engineers. YouTube put up the full video:

Davos08: Google’s environment

I’m at a surprise session with Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and the Google Foundation’s Larry Brilliant, moderated by Tom Friedman. Liveblogging:

The key difference between this and the Gore-Bono panel prior to this is that Gore concentrated on the things we must stop doing — as the movement does — while the Google team concentrates on what we can start doing, thanks to technology.

Brilliant says after the Bono and Gore session earlier: “It’s true that climate change takes the oxygen out of the room.” In other words, it takes attention and effort away from poverty and development. He says we have to get over our cultural ADD and handle more than one crisis at a time.

He outlines the Google Foundation’s priorities. They believe that people don’t know what services their governments offer and so they help inform them and help governments get that message out. Another priority is job creation. Less than 15 percent of jobs in the developing world are from small and medium enterprises and they are targeting growth there. In health, they are concentrating on diseases that jump from animal to human, such as AIDS, and become pandemics. They are funding early-warning systems. They concentrate on climate change: making ecological power cheaper than coal-fired power. And they believe electric cars plugged into a green grid will take care of much of our problems.

Larry Page talks about the renewable-power-cheaper-than-coal initiative. Buying a lot of electricity, Google knows that the cheapest came from coal. The cost of electricity as a percentage is going up, he says, and is approaching the cost of the computers themselves. So they want to get it cheaply and get it green. Startups can work selling green energy at 10 cents per kilowatt hour because there is a demand for renewable energy, he says, but that does not bring real change. “Our primary goal is not to fix the world,” he says, but they do have the power to drive things forward, to get to three cents.

Sergey Brin says the are concentrating on three energy sources: solar-thermal, deep geothermal, and high-altitude wind; if he had to add one, it would be photovoltaic. He says that windmills are on a par with coal but are intermittent and they think it can be even cheaper by using high-altitude wind, through kites, which are cheaper to make that metal windmills. They’ve invested in this and solar-thermal. Deep geothermal is a bit farther off because it requires more fundamental research to get to scale.

What’s the reaction of the energy companies? “They’re pretty good at pushing things into the future and you guys want to claim the future now,” Friedman says. Brin says some of these companies such as BP are invested but Google has an advantage because it does not have a legacy business to cannibalize. Indeed, Google can benefit its core business. “There’s a big bet at some point that you need to make that’s going to take capital.” And Google, he says, in a good position to take that risk.

Asked about the reaction of shareholders, Page says the investment is moderate and there is potential for payoff.

Friedman asks whether they can succeed in this space without taking more of a political position. Brilliant says very few of the people fighting against the climate change movement are bad people: “the have children, they have grandchildren.” He says that the movement has not done a good enough job to communicate. “You can’t separate the quest for dignity and fight poverty from climate change…. We have failed to get that degree of awareness in Congress.”

Friedman quotes Al Gore’s complaint that 3,000 questions asked in Sunday morning programs during the campaign included just three on global warming — equal to the three on UFOs. (Anyone have a citation for that?) “What are we doing, what is Google doing, to reframe the debate?” Friedman asks. Brilliant likens this to the second-hand smoking debate in achieving awareness.

Asked what the next president should do to help their cause, Page responds as an engineer and complains that there has been no research on transmission — which adds to costs — and so he wants a priority on that work from government — an interstate highway system for power, Friedman says. Brin’s answer: Renewable energy is not on a level playing field because of the costs of old energy: health and coal, politics and oil, tariffs on commodities for ethanol, regulation on electric-care development. Brin says they are generating 1.6 megawatts of solar power on their campus. “It’s been great. It produced shade. It reduced cost.” But he says that regulation, federal to local, adds cost. “There’s just all these barriers to clean energy that don’t exist for dirty energy.”

Dirty energy. That’s a nice phrase. As good as death tax.

Page says they are spreading the idea of holding business-plan contests: having events, giving out a little bit of money, helping winners get funding. “In Silicon Valley, they do that for breakfast.” To do that in Ghana, he says, would establish a community to keep this going.

Asked from the floor, by Time’s Michael Elliott, about the theme of the day — environment versus poverty, emphasis on versus — Page says that he gets irritated when people do not realize that the way out of these problems is technology.

I think he’s right: the discussion is too much about what we should not do rather than what we can do.

“You can’t succeed just out of conservation because then you won’t have economic development,” Brilliant explains. “Find a way to make electricity — not to cut back on it but to have more of it than you ever dreamed of.”

I say from the floor that I see a cultural difference between the movement and Google on this. Google has the positive message of the potential for change through technology. I ask about how they are going to get this message out to encourage investment from government and the public. Are they using lobbying, PR, education? Friedman adds that Exxon Mobil has “done a number” on the debate with PR. Brilliant says that their role is to get information to people, as much information as they can. Page says that success is the best message — that is, if they had three-cent power, everyone would come.

Gore, from the audience, takes issue with Brilliant, saying that getting information out is no longer sufficient. “That’s the way the world used to work. The world doesn’t work that way anymore. The reason that the tobacco industry was able to continue killing people for 40 years ater the surger General’s report…. they understood the power of strategic persuasion. They went about it in a very careful, organized, and well-funded way.” He says we are “vulnerable to strategic persuasion campaigns if the other side assumes that we should just get the information out there.” He says Exxon Mobil has funded 40 front groups to “in their own words position global warming as theory rather than fact.” He concludes: “We need to take them on, Goddamnit.”

Brilliant responds, saying he agrees with Gore but adds: “Each of us needs to play the role we are uniquely positioned to play.”

The other unspoken divide is about economics: Gore and Friedman favor raising the cost of carbon. Page and Brin see a victory in reducing the price of the clean energy. Tax versus investment.

The social corporation

Burda is the most social corporation I know. That’s no doubt because its chairman, Huburt Burda, loves people and playing host to them. I’ve been to dinners and parties from New York to Davos where he and his lieutenants bring together incredibly diverse and interesting bunches of people. They’ve just brought 1,000 people to Munich for their conference. I’ve seen that being a gracious host pay dividends to Burda. They bring in new ideas and talent and relationships. Most companies I know are not at all social. They live in their own buildings and worlds. Not just people are becoming more social. Companies must become social.