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.)