Posts about newsinnovation

Murdoch’s incubator(s)

I’m impressed that Myspace’s Chris Dewolfe has started an incubator inside News Corp.

Murdoch and MySpace CEO Chris DeWolfe plan to be closely involved in the venture, which News Corp. has seeded with $15 million to hire roughly 40 employees, mostly software developers, say people with knowledge of the plans. The venture is being launched nearly a half-year after archrival Facebook announced a $10 million fund to invest in software companies that build applications for its social network. . . .

DeWolfe & Co. won’t get specific about what projects they’re incubating with SlingShot but say they’ll focus mostly on social networking, including software designed to work with Facebook’s site.

I only wish that they also started an incubator for news. How about an East Coast SlingShot at the Wall Street Journal?

What would you kill? Jocks?

Michael Fioritto was nice enough — and skilled at Excel enough — to compile results from my little survey that asked you what you’d kill from a newspaper’s budget. Keep in mind that it’s unscientific as hell and that respondents could pick as many suggestions as they liked. I need to do a proper survey and probably will at my New Business Models for News conference (this one was just a demo of Google Forms). In any case, when Michael did the tabulation, 425 people had responded and here’s what they wanted to ax:

Financial tables 43.06%
Sports section 21.65%
Sports columnists 8.00%
Entertainment section 3.76%
Movie critic 3.76%
Business section 2.59%
Syndicated features 2.59%
TV critic 2.59%
Music critic 1.88%
Book critic 1.65%
Comics 1.65%
Foreign bureaus 1.65%
Lilfestyle section 1.41%
Washington bureau 1.18%
Editorial columnists 0.71%
Copy editors 0.47%
Online site 0.47%
Top editors 0.47%
Editorial page 0.24%
Photographers 0.24%

Financial tables are obvious (which is why it’s all the more appalling that all papers haven’t killed them).

What fascinates me most is the large number who want to kill sports. I’m one of those who doesn’t read the sports section (you always knew I was neither a real man nor a real American). So I just throw it in the back seat. But sports sections are also expensive to produce — lots of staff — and bring in few endemic advertisers. Granted, some people buy the paper to get the sports section alone. But this makes me wonder whether sports should be a separate product. If it’s a great one, perhaps you could charge even more for it than you charge for the paper. Could it work as a free paper? Well, the lack of related advertising could be a problem there. Should sports live only online with the opportunity to have more media and interactivity? Should newspapers go out of the sports business? Those seem to be the questions to ask.

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.)

Davos08: Tiny cameras

Small video cameras are already the hot thing, gadgetwise, at this year’s Davos. Robert Scoble is broadcasting live from his mobile phone, as Jason Calacanis did at DLD. Loic LeMeur is making videos all over for Seesmic (with a bigger camera). I’m playing with the Reuters/Nokia mojo cameraphone (see the videos below). The YouTube Davos Conversation booth is recording the machers on video with tiny cameras.

And I showed my FlipVideo (the $79, 30-minute, dead-easy video camera) to Kai Diekmann, editor of the biggest paper, by far, in Germany: Bild. He gets thousands of photos from his readers, who send it up to a simple number via their mobile phones. Now he’s practicing networked journalism and assigning and mobilizing them to shoot things. He also told me that next week, they’ll have a top chef from a popular German food show telling readers in the paper to send in videos that he will put on his show. Where’s the line among media there? Diekmann is then doing with videos what he did with phones and so he was wowed by the Flip and wants to order a thousand of htem. That’s what happens whenever I show it to open-minded new people: I tell them they should buy them by the dozen and distribute them to their readers to become producers. Here’s Diekmann:

Davos08: Journalistic innovation

I ask the session on innovation (see the post below) for advice: I tell them that I’ve jsut about given up on seeing innovation from the newspaper industry and so I am thinking about getting a grant to start an incubator. I ask the room whether I should and if I should what it should be.

Larry Keeley says that networks outside of newspapers are 700 percent more innovative (yes, he has a way to measure that, which I’ll get). So he suggests creating an award, like the X prize, to motivate innovators. He’s thinking about the Pulitzer of blogs but I’ll disagree with that since I think the Pulitzers skew journalists to do show-off work that’s not often useful; it’s too inward thinking. But an X prize for a company that solves a problem, now that’s interesting.

Fighting the future

A herd of journalism-school deans wrote a predictable but also naive and possibly dangerous — and certainly not strategically forward-thinking — attack on media cross-ownership and the FCC’s loosening of its rules in today’s Times op-ed page.

They argue that the government should regulate local broadcast and make content demands on stations. That’s the dangerous part: government regulating news. The deans acknowledge the peril:

Journalists are instinctively libertarian, at least when it comes to journalism. We like the conversation about journalism and the federal government to begin and end with a robust defense of the First Amendment. That’s why journalists have not been leading participants in the debate over the Federal Communications Commission’s regulation of broadcasting, even though the future of our profession and its public mission is at stake

Yes, they said libertarian, not liberal. I hope that’s their sense of collective irony.

The naive bits are that government — more than companies and editors — should be held accountable for the quality of journalism, and that that broadcast journalism was ever worth a damn. At most and best, radio and TV distilled and read what newspapers published (and, yes, fewer radio stations today bother doing even that). Reporting on TV news has long been defined as covering fires and press conferences. It’s not about investigation. It’s not about a multiplicity of voices. It’s not about holding the powerful to account. It’s about stand-ups. For these deans not to acknowledge that — for them not to hold these stations and their producers and reporters responsible for what they call journalism and demand a higher standard — is itself shocking. That broadcast outlets have smaller staffs is, the deans say, “a real loss for American democracy.” Oh, come on. They’re just more efficient at covering fires. The deans sound like union organizers trying to protect headcount.

What disturbs me more about their op-ed is the lack of acknowledgment of the business realities of our industry: both broadcast and print outlets cannot operate as they have and that is why they need to consider merging — to survive.

But what disturbs me most is the lack of strategic ambition and imagination the deans exhibit. When the Times wrote a similar, knee-jerk editorial the other day decrying media consolidation, I argued that TV news could be improved if it merged with print and vice versa. I’d quite like to see the deans consider the idea that news is now omnimedia and it makes sense to stop separating newsrooms by old limitations of the means of distribution. It makes sense to get both newsrooms to produce the news in new ways. It could only help broadcast newsrooms to get a sense of real reporting and to get the work of hundreds of print journalists with cameras. And it could only help print newsrooms to be forced to think and work across media.

I’d have hoped that the deans would see the possibilities not only for the industry but also for their students. Now is not the time to preserve the past but to reinvent the future.

(Disclosure: It almost goes without saying but clearly I have a dog in this hunt as a journalism prof. The deans who wrote the Times op-ed are: Roderick P. Hart, dean of the University of Texas journalism school; Alex S. Jones, director of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy; Thomas Kunkel, dean of the University of Maryland journalism school; Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Columbia Journalism School; John Levine, dean of the Northwestern journalism school; Dean Mills, dean of the University of Missouri journalism school; David M. Rubin, dean of the Syracuse school of public communications; and Ernest Wilson, dean of the University of Southern California school of communication.)

An exchange of networked journalism apps

One of the best possible results of the Networked Journalism Summit, I’m told, is collaborative work by WNYC and the Ft. Myers News-Press to create a tool to enable crowdsourced collections of data from the public (a la WNYC’s Are You Being Gouged, which required lots of manual input and analysis).

This inspires another thought: Wouldn’t it be great if news organizations of all sizes and shapes could share applications that would enable networked journalism? Imagine if any news org could get their hands on that crowdsourcing tool to start mobilizing their audiences to go get information. Imagine if someone created a tool to make it easy to compile news reports via Twitter or photos via Flickr and make it ready for embedded publishing with an optional admin tool to clean things up. Imagine if folks wanted to follow in the footsteps of MyHeimat or NorthwestVoice and reverse publish content from the public into print with less cut-and-paste hassle. What other ideas could you imagine?

And this leads to another question I sent to the folks working on that app: What platform would be best for this? One thought is Django. Others like Drupal. I don’t know enough to know. Your suggestions?