The Guardian asked me to finish off their Future of Journalism series of lectures and discussions with a talk about the 10 questions we should be asking now. Talk about intimidating. These people are asking and answering questions about the future better than any news organization I know. But I never pass up a chance to visit with folks at the Guardian, and so I went and tried to come up with my list. They videoed it and I can’t imagine why anyone with a life would watch 90 minutes of me but in case you are on a desert island with internet access (can I come?) here are parts one and two (not embeddable, sorry to say). For those with lives, here’s a blog write-up of the session. And here’s my Keynote:
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At the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, we’re proud to announce today that we received a $3 million matching grant from the Tow Foundation to create a Center for Journalistic Innovation. As you can guess, I’ll be very involved in this.
Our idea is to start an incubator to help support new products, businesses, platforms, technologies, and standards from new companies — some that will be started by students out of my entrepreneurial journalism class — and big media as well. We will create a New Business Models for News initiative to gather and share best practices in the industry. Another intitiative will do the same with editorial innovation. We will establish a chair in journailstic innovation and scholarships for entrepreneurial students.
Columbia’s journalism school also received a $5 million Tow matching grant. They will devote their efforts primarily to new journalism education, which is needed across the nation. But because we at CUNY are new and dealt with many of those issues when we started the school from scratch, we decided instead to look outward to the news industry. We believed that the greatest need of the industry is innovation and this was our effort at an answer that we hope will be complementary and collaborative with other efforts in this area from Knight, Poynter, and others. We also will work hard to create international ties for the center’s work so we can learn lessons from around the wrold.
In CUNY’s and my work, there is a continuing theme of innovation in the news industry. The entrepreneurial journalism course received a grant from the McCormick Foundation to provide seed funding for the students’ best proposals for sustainable journalistic enterprises. There were some great plans out of the class but we quickly learned that these llitle shoots need nurturing. We believe there are many similar ideas out there that need such help. Thus, the incubator. Last fall, we held a MacArthur-Foundation-funded conference in networked journalism and David Cohn reported best practices before and after. This October, we will do likewise with another MacArthur-financed conference in New Business Models for News. Those, too, lead right into the work of the Tow Center.
Now we have to raise the other $3 million so we can open the center’s doors. That’s the plug. If you have money, connections to it, or ideas, please do let me know. I’m eager to get going.
Phil Rosenthal from the Chicago Tribune asked me the right question: If you were a newspaper in Chicago, how would you react to the invasion of Arianna (see the post below). My response:
The old way would be to treat her as a competitor and try to do what she does.
The new way would be to find ways to work with her in a network: Sell her local ads and get a piece of her revenue as a result. Take feeds of the good blogs and bloggers she finds and put that in your site, taking the advantage of her curation and relationships. Start lots of blogs that crosspost in her product and yours so you use her to promote those blogs to a new audience. Provide her with feeds of your news so she can deliver it to her audience and you can get links from them to your content. Start to curate blogs on your own and include her in that collection so you can deliver the best of the larger network of local content to your audience. You no longer own the market; you are now part of a larger network and the larger that network is — if you’ve put yourself in the right position — the better it is for you.
Jon Fine writes about Daylife (where — disclosure — I’m a partner) in Business Week and reveals a new program Daylife is soon to announce enabling any publisher or blogger to offer pages on any topic.
But Daylife is readying a much more accessible service, one with larger implications for the news ecosystem. This summer, Daylife will launch what Shardanand calls a “grab-and-go” service. This essentially enables anyone, anywhere, to build and customize Daylife-powered pages on virtually any topic, be it bird-watching or basketball, and fold them into their own sites.
The company is still mulling how to split ad revenue on the grab-and-go pages between Daylife and the sites that build them. But if the application and its underlying ethos take off—a big if, obviously—the distribution of news on the Web could become much more fluid, and news experiences much more omnipresent. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times can be everywhere, including on each other’s sites. And it will further define the Web’s news economy as one driven by the link rather than the destination site.
I talked to Jon about the story some days before the AP kerfuffle started but as I’ve said in my posts, it’s all part of a story about new economic models of media and new architectures of distribution.
(Cool picture of Daylife founder Upendra Shardanand with the column.)
(See my fuller disclosure at the end of this post.)
Last night at one of the Guardian’s Future of Journalism sessions they are running for staff (and putting online), editor Alan Rusbridger had a conversation with Arianna Huffington and I do believe this is new: Arianna is going local. She’ll devote one editor to curating news and blog posts in the market. Jemima Kiss beat me to blogging this (she must have had less of the red wine at the dinner afterwards). She just added a green section and will launch books, international, and sports soon.
“We are an aspiring newspaper,” she said.
I was just with Emily Bell, head of digital at the Guardian, and she used the right word to describe this: Agile. Arianna and company decide to start taking over the world and they just do it. Big, old newspapers plan and fret instead. Want to offer readers a new area of coverage? Start with one editor, find out what’s available, and get moving. Agile.
What has me most upset about the AP Affair is that I fear we are seeing the beginnings of its death throes. I value the AP and don’t want it to die. I want it to morph to a new model and a new future. But I am afraid that in its fights, we are seeing its inability to adapt (not all its own fault; I’ll bet blame goes to its board and member/owners). And in its current combatants, we see the preview of a day when the AP has no friends left: not its members, not us readers/writers. If it does die, it could be that these parties would shrug and not mourn. And that would be the tragedy.
As I blogged here, the AP’s members are beginning to revolt. They are sharing their stories directly and see value in no longer going through the AP mill. That is a shot across the service’s bow.
So let’s say that local newspapers enter into networks — with other papers and with local bloggers and perhaps even with local TV stations. Will they need the AP state wire anymore? Doesn’t look like it.
And let’s say that local newspapers become what I’ve predicted and urged: very local. They cover their areas on their own and with these new networks. They no longer try to cover the rest of the world. That could be where the AP comes in. But the AP is still expensive and papers are shrinking and complaining — that’s what the revolt is really about. So this could also be where link platforms such as Daylife (disclosure: I’m a partner there) or even a general-interest Digg arrive to provide links directly to coverage on any topic wherever it is covered. I’ve suggested that papers will be left with a links editor who handles anything beyond the local limits.
Now add the fact that the AP has fired a shot across the bow of bloggers, not realizing that their links are valuable (and their ire dangerous); see the post below. At its core, this is about the AP’s conflict with its clients in becoming a consumer brand. If the AP tried to become that consumer brand — able to monetize links from bloggers and fans — it would value links from bloggers; instead, it is desperate to monetize its ownership of content and can’t face the prospect that this model is dying. But the AP can’t become a consumer brand because that would put it in competition and conflict with its members/owners. As Brian Cubbison says in the comment here, the AP is a wholesaler trapped in a retail world. Reuters is dealing with that conflict because it’s not owned by its clients. The AP can’t.
So what does the world look like without the AP? It pains me to ask but it’s a possible universe. Local papers can get local content from their own networks and national, international, sports, business and other content via links. They can also enter into cooperatives — which is where the AP started — to cover other events, such as the Olympics (now that every paper can’t afford the ego trip of sending huge staffs to overcovered news). The AP’s other clients — TV stations and such — have sources of national and international coverage from Reuters and Agence France Presse. Readers get links directly to original journalism at its source. The sources of that journalism get more audience and more opportunity to monetize it and support their work. The world keeps going.
How could the AP survive? I think it needs to become a curator and distributor of original content — likely not in a syndication model but in a shared sponsorship network. It could continue to be a cooperative for bespoke coverage, but only on demand. It would be much smaller. Or it could be freed to build a consumer brand able to monetize audience like Reuters (though its board of members/owners would likely never go for that). In any case, it can’t stay stuck in the limbo it’s in now, getting in trouble with every side. That, I believe, is why it is acting like a trapped animal.
And that, you see, is why I am so concerned by the AP Affair. It’s about more than a few bloggers and links and lawyer letters. It’s about the future of the news business.
: LATER: Moments after I posted this, I see that Dorian Benkloil, writing at Silicon Alley Insider, agrees that the members are the problem.