Posts about Knight Foundation

The NJ News Co-op

Please take a look at — and rate and comment on! — a proposal I helped draft for the Knight News Challenge proposing a co-op to support the emerging local news ecosystem in otherwise-deprived New Jersey.

The idea is that the scattered, independent members of that ecosystem need help to (1) curate and share the best of what they do across all media and get them more attention; (2) organize them to create collaborative works of journalism; to train them in skills from journalism to new media to business; and (3) begin to fill in the blanks that the ecosystem and the market leave with beat reporting and investigations. It’s not meant to be a news organization so much as it helps organize and support other news organizations of all sizes, media, and models in the state. The goal is not to grow a large enterprise but to help grow a large ecosystem.

I believe we are seeing the new ecosystem emerge (see our business modeling at CUNY’s Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism here) but I also believe it needs help and support to grow and inspire more journalists and community members to join in. Thus the co-op.

The notion of a co-op was inspired by Deb Gallant, New Jersey’s own Queen of Hyperlocal at a meeting organized by my friend and neighbor, Chris Daggett, whom you last saw here when he ran as an independent for governor of New Jersey; now he heads the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Chris brought together other foundations plus journalists, public broadcasting folks, and state officials in an all-day meeting to look at what can be done to help New Jersey’s media future. There are other efforts coming out of these players; this is just one.

New Jersey’s media scene is a unique mess. It has never been served by the media outlets at either end of the state, in New York and Philadelphia. The daily newspapers are shrinking rapidly. The governor has been looking to sell the public broadcasting licenses here at NJN and, truth be told, they’ve never been robust.

But all that bad news is good news, for it means that New Jersey is a blank slate, a unique opportunity to build a new media sphere. We want to nurture that development. This endeavor is a not-for-profit cooperative. These enterprises also need commercial help with revenue (advertising and events); others are simultaneously working on that.

(Because entries lose paragraph-spacing, it’s a bit hard to read on the Knight site. So you can read it here but please, please do comment there. We’re eager for suggestions and questions and help in fleshing this out.)

NewBizNews: What ad sales people hear

Recently, at CUNY, we held a roundtable for ad sales people from hyperlocal blogs to big newspapers to hear what they are hearing from local merchants. We’re wrapping up our research for the New Business Models for News Project — indeed, it was Alberto Ibargüen, head of the Knight Foundation that funded this work, who said he really wanted to hear sales people’s perspective — and beginning research for Carnegie-funded work on new ad models, products, service, and sales methods, working with The New York Times on The Local. Some of what we learned; the first four are the most important to me:

* Most important, I think, is that we won’t be selling media to merchants — banners ‘n’ buttons — so much as we will be selling service: helping them with all their digital needs, including optimizing them in Google and Yelp and social media and mobile. I’ll write a post with more thoughts on this shortly.

* Voice matters. Local bloggers said they are must-reads because of their voice in the community (the human voice of the neighbor over the cold voice of the institution) and that — along with a constant flow of posts and news and the audience and conversation that attracts — makes them must-buys for advertisers. One blogger made the newspapers visibly jealous reporting that advertisers are coming to the blog asking to advertise because they had to be there. Another way to look at this: The service must be part of the community. One of the bloggers covers new businesses in town because that’s news; ads may follow but even if they don’t, the site will cover commerce in the community.

* There is interest in network sales. One newspaper exec in the room said she’s jealous of the new advertisers smaller bloggers get and would be interesting in having those bloggers sell into her site. The blogger is also interested in getting revenue from larger advertisers via the newspaper’s sales. That networked approach is key to the optimization of value we projected in our new business models for the local news ecosystem: the advertiser can be better served by appearing in more services with easier purchase; the large site can get new customers it could not otherwise afford to sell; the small site can get large advertisers it could not otherwise attract; all ships rise on this tide. (However, we must find a new word instead of “network,” as it has low-value cooties associated with it. Alliance? Ecosystem? Suggestions?)

* We at CUNY are going to be investigating the possibilities for citizen sales — new sales forces and new sales businesses that can sprout up alongside and help support the new news businesses. The group saw potential here but also saw the need for training and quality control.

* It’s clear that local merchants still need education. In the early days of the web, we had to sell advertisers not just on the value of our sites but on the value of the internet itself. That effort continues with smaller advertisers. That means that there’s a greater cost of sales. It also means that this is a means of sales — come to our internet seminar (a technique that is working for various of the participants). And I see a role here for organizations such as universities (not to mention chambers of commerce) to help local merchants understand the value of the internet.

* Local ad agencies also need education still.

* There was some debate about the sophistication of local advertisers and their need for data, but it’s clear that in many cases, media have to collect, analyze, and present data on performance and return on investment. One of the more established companies said all that matters to small advertisers is ROI (return on investment: feet to the door and ringing cash registers). One of the newer companies said more data is needed to prove performance and value. In some cases, we will measure will be attention, in others leads produced, in others sales, and in others more intangible measurements about community and relationships. At our conference on new business models for news in the fall, Gannett talked about research it did with Ideo that found that very local merchants need discovery (read: search) but in many cases, their customers already now they’re there; so what they seek is better relationships with their communities; how do we deliver and measure that?

* The simpler the better. Local merchants are not buying CPM-based advertising. They’re buying timed sponsorships. They want to see the ad they bought on the site.

* Google is playing a bigger and bigger role in local (via the web and now mobile). Some local merchants don’t bother having a site; their ads link to their Google place page.

* One old law of sales is still true: get one butcher advertising and that helps force the next one to join in.

* Self-serve platforms for buying advertising are not the answer. Sales is still needed. I’ve heard that in more than one horror story about low revenue from build-it-and-they-will-come efforts. Once an advertiser is sold, I’ve also heard of success in enabling them to update their ads (e.g., providing them with advertiser blogs).

* Replicating print ads online doesn’t work for advertisers or readers. No surprise there; the only surprise is that publications and merchants still try.

* There are other products besides advertising to sell: email, events, coupons (which work well for many local sites). There was some debate in the group about the value of video as a vehicle for advertising and as a form of advertising itself. More experimentation is needed.

At CUNY, our next step will be performing research with local advertisers/merchants. Then we’ll work on R&D on new ad forms. Then we’ll try to train citizen sales forces. This is the next step in our work on new business models and sustainability for news. Stay tuned.

: LATER: In the comments, Dave Chase of SunValleyOnline adds great notes:

Great observations and consistent with what I have heard/seen from working with lots of local advertisers at SunValleyOnline which is one of the sites talked about in the CUNY “census” you guys did that has managed to build a reasonable (and profitable business). I generally agree with what you’ve laid out but will amplify or differ with a few items.

1. Education: Hands down the biggest need I’ve seen. Sales people need it. Merchants need it. Local agencies/marketing consultants need it. Citizen ad sales will really need it. It’s the reason I collaborated with a former colleague to create a how-to resource for local merchants on marketing in the digital age that I’m making available to the ventures I’m involved with. I believe there’s scalable ways for local sites to tap into this without having to do all the training themselves that can also serve as lead generation.

2. Tools for advertisers to manage their own ads: Despite having two tools (Impact Engine and Mixpo) that have very easy interfaces and through much encouragement, virtually no advertiser is taking advantage of it. They simply want us to take care of it. The advertisers I’ve worked with aren’t sophisticated at all from a marketing perspective.

3. VideoAds: This is primarily a function of the size of advertiser you are going after and where they’ve advertised. Generally, it’s the bigger advertiser who has run TV ads before that will be candidates to move $$. Turns out one of the categories where $$ are finally starting to move is political ads. The recent Supreme Court decision will accelerate that. Dynamically built videoads is a particularly promising area and is something that took place in the recent Massachusetts Senate race (on the winning side). There’s some powerful tools that allow A-B testing, message optimization, etc. that are accessible even to the smallest advertiser.

: And Max Kalehoff says it well in the comments: “Sell the outcome.”

Hyperlocal Boston

Now that The New York Times Company has decided not to sell the Boston Globe, DailyDeal.com wonders whether the company should convert Boston to a hyperlocal-based business.

Well, our Knight Foundation-funded New Business Models for News can be a roadmap. Indeed, the 5-million-person hypothetical market we worked on looks an awful lot like Boston (because, truth be told, it is Boston).

We suggest that a new news organization working collaboratively with a large base of independent sites and companies can establish itself at low cost and risk because much of the news is produced by people other than employees. The company would be much smaller but it would be profitable, potentially at impressive margins. Getting smaller would be painful, of course, but if the Globe doesn’t do it, some kid in a Harvard dorm room could.

Local blog and business models event at CUNY

I’m putting out a call for local bloggers within traveling distance from New York – and for journalists who’ve left their jobs or are thinking about leaving to start local news blogs – to attend a series of workshops at CUNY on Nov. 11.

The first half of the day, we’ll be presenting and discussing the New Business Models for News Project projections for the local news ecosystem (earlier presented at a Knight Foundation-sponsored event at the Aspen Institute). In the second half of the day, we will have workshops and discussions aimed at improving local sites’ businesses: setting up; serving ads; selling ads; marketing; managing communities; and more – plus presentations by companies working to help these sites, including Outside.in Growthspur, Prism, Google, Addify, PaperG, Spot.us, and others. We will have a mix of bloggers, editors, publishers, entrepreneurs, investors, and companies working in the new local news ecosystem. Gannett New Jersey and The New York Times are contributing to the effort.

Space is limited so right now we’re just putting out the call for bloggers and journalists who have or plan to have local sites to give them priority. A preemptive apology to those for whom we don’t have room; we’ll do our best to accommodate everyone we can. Know also that we’ll be streaming the day. If you’d like an invite, please email David Cohn ([email protected]), who’s kind enough to help organize this, our third CUNY conference on the topic, and who’s a helluva lot better organized than I am. Please make sure to give us a link to your site.

Journalism as capitalism: Now that’s God’s work

The only way that journalism is going to be sustainable is if it is profitable – and out of that market relationship comes many other benefits: accountability to the public it serves; independence from funders’ agendas; growth; innovation. This is the future for journalism we envisioned in the New Business Models for News Project.

Not-for-profit, publicly and charitably supported journalism has its place in the new ecosystem of news; that’s why we included it in our models at CUNY. I think it should fill in blanks the market doesn’t fill.

But I agree with Jack Shafer at least in part that there are dangers to relying too much on not-for-profit news. He does an admirable job listing those dangers, chief among them influence by funders and their motives. Texas Tribune funder and founder John Thornton responds here. I’ll stand halfway between them: We can use and perhaps need funded journalism but we also need to be aware of the risks and must expect transparency about them.

I see another danger, though: that not-for-profit ventures will delay or even choke off for-profit, sustainable entrepreneurship in news. I would prefer to see various of the many funders who gave funds to not-for-profit endeavors – note $5 million give to a new not-for-profit entity in the Bay area – instead had invested in for-profit companies that can build companies that support and sustain themselves rather than rely on hand-outs. That is God’s work.

Mind you, I’m not coming at this from the perspective – as some might – that journalism has to be produced only by paid professionals. I have argued that we would be wise to account for the value of volunteerism and that we must find ways to reduce the marginal cost of news and new journalism to near-zero.

But in terms of saving the functions reporters perform, I think we should find ways to support them and their work in profitable enterprises. So, in a rare moment, I disagree with Clay Shirky that we must rescue reporters as charities. This call continues the notion that journalism is in a crisis. No, its legacy owners are in a crisis because they could not and would not change; Clay’s right that their models and buildings are burning. But journalism is facing no end of opportunities (as the Knight Commission’s Ted Olson said at today’s Knight Foundation presentation of the group’s recommendations: never before in journalism has there been so much opportunity for innovation in journalism).

So let’s not save those reporters and let’s certainly not save doomed companies that refused to change. Let’s invest in the future, in creating new means of gathering and sharing a community’s news that are better than old methods and that are more efficient and thus more easily sustainable. That’s what we present in the New Business Models for News. When we presented at the Aspen Institute this summer, I pointed to a blog post I wrote (but can’t find now) a year and a half ago arguing that when the Washington Post bought out reporters, it should invest in them, setting them up with blogs and businesses and promoting and selling ads for them. That resonated. And that is one step toward a new model built on networks, profitable networks. There are many more that need building.