The balance shifts

At yesterday’s New Business Models for (Local) News summit at CUNY, I ran what I called a reverse panel with big media folks – NY Times, Washington Post, Gannett, Star-Ledger, Impremedia, Politico – sitting up front but ordered to listen to the wishes and needs of the people in the room. I threatened to cover the big guys’ mouths with duct tape. (A few of them seemed to honestly fear I would do that. I do need to investigate this reputation I’ve garnered.)

The putative war between mainstream media and bloggers has been declared over again and again (myself, I reported a truce three and a half years ago… oh, well). So I won’t act as there aren’t still the lone snipers in the mountains. Bloggers from medium-sized cities had plenty of complaints about the disrespect they see from their local medium-sized media outlets.

But importantly, I did see a shift in the balance of power yesterday. The big media guys on this reverse panel made it crystal clear that they not only respect but need the work of the bloggers/citizens/little-media-guys/whatever you choose to call them. The big guys acknowledged openly that they are shrinking and can no longer even pretend that they can do it all themselves.

For their part, the bloggers also made it clear that they respect and thus want attention – promotion and credit – from the big guys.

Group hug.

We are at various fulcrum points. The big, old media outlets can no longer act as if they have no problems; it’s obvious, they do. The upstarts are beginning to catch a glimmer of critical mass; we see blogs starting up all over and there are lots of new news organizations – most of them not-for-profit – rising in San Diego, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Austin; now they are joined by the for-profit local Politico. Even if you disagree with me that the future of news is entrepreneurial, there’s now no denying there is a future there.

And so the room was filled with people who were, each in his or her own way, building that future and they all recognized that they have to work together to do so. The future of news is also an ecosystem. That’s what became apparent yesterday and that, for me, was the highlight of the event.

* * *

We’re doing our post-mortems on the event at CUNY to figure out what to do better next time – and it’s clear there is a need for more of these gatherings here in New York and, we hope, across the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, bringing together builders. We heard a lot from the room about what they want next: More best practices from the kind of real experience that fed our models…. More practical advice for making money…. More education…. I’ll come back with additional thoughts after my thorough-going exhaustion wears off.

My personal thanks to the team at CUNY – led by Peter Hauck, Jennifer McFadden, and Matt Sollars – for doing great work in the models and the event and to the funders who made it possible: The MacArthur Foundation funded the events (and the prior summit led directly to a request to do the work we presented at this one); the Knight Foundation funded the work on our models and presentation of them at the Aspen Institute; the McCormick Foundation is funding ongoing work on new business models; and the Carnegie Corporation is funding work on hyperlocal labs. We’re also grateful to Mignon Media – Nancy Wang and Jeff Mignon – for their incredible work on the models; David Cohn for his tireless efforts helping us organize the events; Borrell Associates for their data and advice; and all the companies and individuals who participated yesterday. And we want to thank Ted Mann of inJersey/Gannett and Jim Schachter of The New York Times and their colleagues for helping to organize the event. Thanks.

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  • I agree with you that the future of news is small, lean news organizations that are staffed by backpack journalists who can shoot, edit, photograph, write and publish online. But I also see a loss in quality, as there are very few journos who do it all well. And the angle I’m most concerned about is that many will be beholden to their advertisers and will spend a lot of time wooing those same advertisers, which will only pay just enough to keep those journos off the bread line. Sure, some lucky ones will continue to work for non-profits and others will still work in profitable niches like sports or entertainment. But hard-news, it has always been a loss leader for both newspapers and TV stations.

  • I do not share the concerns of many people regarding quality loss which normally pop up when “lean news” units (blogs were discussed.

    In News3.0 we will face a network of journalists connected via a new technology platform instead of institutions. Quality is secured through methods and mechanism we partly know already from social networks and measured by something I call the J-Rank similar to PageRank.

    The News3.0 model reflects the balance shift described here but it exceeds your description in some other areas of the workflow and platform architecture. Thanks for the great article, Jeff.

  • The way I see this new trend is that news will become personal again. Hey, that’s the catchy tune on the HP ads, right? Sales went up, the others were left behind. And that’s exactly what we need. Quality verifiable not by a single editor behind a desk but by a network of peers (aka. you and me). Great post Jeff! –Paul

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  • Jeff, the conference at CUNY was informative and inspiring. I left with a vibrating brain full of ideas, and a wallet filled with cards from new contacts (I know, so analog of me). I believe the balance has shifted, and there’s an eagerness among us to work together to figure it all out. And as we emerge from the bunkers where we hid during the layoffs and dark days of the last two years, I find this energy invigorating.

    Thanks again for a great day.


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  • This is a really interesting point. The quality is certainly an issue when everyone gets into the game of announcing news, but one of my favorite ideas is that NYtimes or Guardian or any of the big ones have begun to write blog pieces to convey news stories. Sure, there are the 13 page features in the Times Magazine, but there are also tons of links on their homepage. I would love it even more if they linked to more niche content.

    It’s also great to see CUNY involved in things like this. A masters degree graduate of Hunter, I am thrilled to see summits like this gaining traction.

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