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.)

  • Mike

    As a writer for a (dying) local weekly newspaper in New Jersey I am champing at the bit for a news outlet free from space constraints, conflicts of interest with business and political pressure over content.
    I am the only full-time staff writer and I have to cover six towns. Undoubtedly, much of the news falls through the cracks. I cover three town meetings and write two feature articles a week. Balancing this workload with a social life and bills to pay on a salary that a McDonalds employee wouldn’t envy definitely hurts morale. However, I do love what I do.
    Most of the higher-ups in my company are over the age of fifty and sieze up over any mention of the word ‘social media’. The media landscape in this state is controlled by the old-media tycoons who are unable and unwilling to relinquish their control of the news. Patch opened up here about a year ago and is already making a name for themselves in the community. Being owned by AOL rubs me the wrong way because our news is now being distributed by a faceless organization. Residents should be the ones to control the news, not out of state corporations.
    Any locally driven news organization that has the ability to reach the greatest number of people with the least amount of cost that is locally driven is a much needed resource in NJ.

    • Stan Hogan

      f you think you’re poorly paid now, and if you work for a weekly that should be a given, wait until you see what you’ll be paid working under this model. You’d be better off grabbing some of that patch money before that grand experiment crashes and burns.

  • We have a hyper-local self-serve ad system sat on a shelf; it’s a help-yourself-and-just-get-on-with-it piece of kit…

    Just gives the publisher up to a 90 per cent revenue return; $ version built.

    People like and run with it in the UK.

    As well as GMG… Eg

    Build a new eco-system of news from the streets of NJ up; not hope for the networks to deliver you an income from the top down.

    Best etc

  • We’ve recently launched a local news sharing tool for some papers in Maine and New Hampshire. We also incorporate the ability for newspapers to subscribe to McClatchy, NYTimes, CNN, and SportDirect via the same news sharing system. This provides a single interface for searching for local and national content and exporting it into their respective editorial systems. I would be happy to demo the system to you anytime and could easily roll out a NJ news sharing hub for you to trial. You can email me at [email protected] if you would like to talk about this more.

  • Jason Costello

    The comment I posted to the proposal:
    I like the idea of community driven news. One of the biggest challenges that face our communities is an increasing level of detachment that people have to where they live. I feel I spend a lot of my day in my car commuting to work. I now have responsibilities to complete when I get home (or am just too tired)and when all that is done the last thing on my mind is attending a town board meeting or trying to find out what is happening in my community. My own local paper’s website is dreadful as well and overrun by “trolls” in the comments section so that a reasonable level of discourse or conversation is impossible. A situation like this offers the opportunity to “vest” the reader in their news coverage.

  • Jim Willse

    Since you asked ….

    The co-op is a nice idea and maybe Knight will put some money into it. But I don’t see that it does much to fix the problem I thought we were all trying to address: How to ease the drought in public service reporting in New Jersey.

    A new kind of news organization, whatever its structure, can and should accomplish both journalism and the sort of networking/training/nurturing the News Challenge proposal calls for. But an entity devoted primarily to organizing an “ecosystem”– with journalism of substance thrown in as an afterthought — won’t do much to fill in the gaps left by the decimation of the state’s mainstream newsrooms.

    New Jersey needs a freestanding, nonprofit news organization on the order of a Texas Tribune or Minn Post. Without a such a real newsroom, giant areas of public interest (health policy, higher education, technology, the court system, to name a few) will continue to be under-reported or not reported on at all. And forget investigations – they take real time and people, not just a passing reference in a proposal.

    I’d hope that if Knight or other funders look favorably on the “ecosystem” idea, it would not be at the expense of undertakings that produce the kind of information I think the Knight Commission had in mind in its call for fully informed communities. NJSpotlight is a good example of such an outfit, and it desperately needs additional resources if it’s going to survive and prosper.

    Jim Willse

  • Jim,

    As usual, we don’t disagree even if it appears we do. I agree that we need newsrooms that create content. We still have them in New Jersey — diminished, but they are there, lead by the one you built at the Ledger. Where we likely disagree is that I don’t think this newsroom — these newsrooms — need be not-for-profit. I haven’t given up on the business models for news, not without a college try.

    I also believe there is a new opportunity and need to bring together disparate, distributed entities to do more together than they can do apart and that this, too, will be an important contributor to the flow and base of news in New Jersey. One newsroom won’t solve our problems or cover all our news. Many newsrooms and bloggers and efforts can.

    But they need help — that is the first job of the coop, to support them. And, again, they can do more collaboratively than competitively; in fact, they must, for they can’t all afford to do the same thing anymore (cue link to “do what you do best and link to the rest”). So an entity that enables them to share the best of what they do (like a wire service should) and collaborate to create together what they couldn’t create apart (true to a co-op’s spirit) can help the ecosystem grow. My real hope is that with proper support, more of the people who left your newsroom will be able to return to reporting. (Cue image of a corn field and the phrase, “if you build it, they will come.”)

    The co-op is not at all at the expense of NJSpotlight, the Ledger, whatever succeeds NJN, local bloggers. The idea is to help them all do what they do better, more efficiently, more collaboratively, with the mechanisms to share their best work and get it and their brands more attention, the means to collaborate, and the training to help them improve what they do. That’s the idea.