Posts about davos08

New business models for news

No doubt to the frustration of my fellow organizers, I’m still thinking through the format and agenda for the New Business Models for News conference we’re holding at CUNY in May and want your advice.

I was influenced watching the Google team at Davos and by a session on innovation there: I saw that engineers don’t start with neat ideas. They start with problems and then seek solutions.

Too much of the discussion about the future of news has been focused on the blind hope for some neat solution: an iPod moment or a white knight or even, god help us, government support. And too much of the parallel discussion about media on the internet is about neat things.

Instead, I think we need to identify the problems and then have a rational search for solutions. So I’ve been focusing my thinking on expressing our problems — or call them our challenges and opportunities — as the agenda for the meeting. My thoughts:

* Efficiency: See the results of my back-of-the-envelope survey asking what should be cut from newspaper budgets. There is no shortage of suggestions. I think we need to have a hard-nosed discussion about the efficiencies that can be found in news. The negative way to say that is that we’re getting rid of commodified fat. The positive way to say that is that we must boil down what we do to its essence, its greatest value. And the internet gives us opportunities to be newly efficient — it is journalism’s internet dividend. So what can and should we do without? What do we absolutely need? How can we use technology to find efficiencies? What is the proper organization of a news company (see Dave Morgan’s proposal to split up newspapers)? What does efficient journalism look like?

* Networked content: It is a precept of mine, at least, that one way to expand journalism’s reach even as revenue and organizations shrink is to work collaboratively outside our organizations. That was the subject of our last conference on networked journalism. So let’s come up with real solutions using collaboration. Where could it help? With what kind of stories? What kinds of beats? What tools do we need? Training? What’s the business relationship?

* Networked advertising: I also believe that the key to making the networked architecture work is advertising to support and motivate new creators and to have control over their quality. We are beginning to see examples of this: blog ad networks from the Washington Post, the Guardian, Reuters, and Forbes; Reuters selling the Guardian’s international advertising (just announced); Glam.

* Innovation: We’re going to get nowhere if we don’t start inventing new products, networks, means of work, means of distribution, technologies, and business models for news. This is just not happening in the industry now, especially in the U.S. So how do we jumpstart it? I’ve been working on starting an incubator. At Davos, some innovators suggested to me that we should start an X prize contest to solve some of our problems, (e.g., an open-source ad network; geotagged news….). Do we need to start an investment fund across media companies? What should universities do?

* New revenue: There may not be any. It may all be advertising. And too often in this discussion, all hope is thrown into this bucket: There’ll be some new ad product or there’ll be some foundation that out of the goodness of its heart decides to feed a newsroom. Ask any foundation whether that’s likely. It’s not. But public support of journalism is one model: see NPR, Pro Publica, and the Center for Public Integrity. There may be new models for supporting high-quality journalism. (One idea I’ll write about soon is what I call reverse syndication: What if the LA Times pointed its traffic about Baghdad to the NY Times’ reporting and rather than the NYT charging the LAT, it pays for LAT for the traffic, which it monetizes to help support the bureau?) I’ve long thought that subscription models won’t work. Prove me wrong. Come up with other new models we should be testing.

How does that sound as the basis for discussion — and more than discussion: real plans?

Davos08: Me and my DNA

23andMe, the DNA company, offered free tests to 1,000 of the Davosati, unlocking our DNA for each of us, telling us about certain genetic propensities, identifying our heritage, and opening up a new social network of the gene.

We went to a booth in the fancy party hotel and spit — and spit and spit and spit some more — into a plastic tube and created a web account. Investor Esther Dyson even brought a few kits with her to the fancy final-night dinner party and had moguls salivating. In a few weeks, I’ll have my report back. This one is on the house for Davos participants. Otherwise, it costs $1,000.

I’ll confess that it is a little freaky. I’m unlocking secrets that have been with me since birth and my family since Adam. In there could be my fate, God forbid, if I have a propensity toward one disease or another. There goes a bit of free will out the window. On the other hand, if I can avoid disease because I am informed, I’ve just gained more power.

I also am dying to get the report on my ancestry. It is filled with mystery because my family tree grew on the rocky slopes of Appalachia. That is, we’re hillbillies. My grandfather’s father is unknown — we think his name was (and thus mine should be) Reilly (or is that Riley?), but we’re not sure. So for all I know, I’m Irish. My wife looked at pictures of my grandmother on the other side and insists she looks black. So maybe I’m African. We all want to know our roots. I was jealous of my wife’s ability to track her family to Germany and for us to meet them. I’ll never be invited to the Reilly family reunion.

It’s just information, my DNA. That was the point made by Craig Venter and Richard Dawkins at the DLD conference in Munich last week. Venter pretty has pretty much proven that he could take my DNA and put it in you and suddenly you’d be blogging and talking fast. We are merely vessels — media — for the data in our DNA.

Does this give me fantasies of cloning myself? No. There are enough of me. And if another of me turned out to be wildly successful, I’d feel like such a failure.

It’s hard to imagine that I’ll end up joining some social network around my genes, but I won’t rule it out, especially if there turns out to be a problem. As I’ve recounted here, by revealing my heart condition (atrial fibrillation; in control; thanks for asking), I’ve gained support and information from the experience of others. It even helped that Tony Blair had the same condition treated, because the media covered it and linked to yet more resources.

I’m sure doctors are hating this. At the Davos session I moderated on stimulation (no, not that kind), I sat next to two doctors who hated their patients coming in with information on the internet. They complained that some had misinformation and some were suffering from online-induced hypochondria. I argued back that their response should be to point their patients to good and reliable information resources online. I said that they, like media, should act as curators.

So unlocking our DNA may well link us to communities of information that can be helpful.

Finally, I wonder whether there’s information in aggregate that will come out of this new industry. Can we discover more linkages between disease and genes because there is now more data that we provide in return? In other words, maybe the lung blowouts that I share with my father (and Patty Hearst, by the way — another celebrity disease connection) can be attached to a gene if enough of us report the condition and turn out to have common elements in our DNA.

And with this free offer from 23andMe at Davos, perhaps the company will be able to find out just how weak the gene pool of the rich and powerful really is.

I’ll report back when I get my data.

Davos08: Notes

The odd from Davos:

* People were constantly asking each other what the mood of Davos was this year, as if it were the pulse of the world. I liked the Piano Bar index: It was said to be less crowded this year than in the past. Uh-oh, downturn. I’d characterize the mood as wishfully optimistic — they all wished to be optimistic.

* Good Tony Blair line: “In today’s world, left and right can be less important than open and closed.”

* The YouTube Davos Conversation Page alcove turned into the Web 2.0 newsroom. Big media were outside in a tent — a “semipermanent structure,” they call it — sitting at crowded tables. The bloggers and vloggers hung out by YouTube. This also meant that they were on the floor, in the thick of the action, and picked up more stories.

* People-watching is half the fun. One night, I managed to weasel my way into a reception thrown by Kleiner, Perkins for Al Gore and Bono. George Soros was hanging out in the corner. I met Elllie Wiesel on the line for the metal detector. Ran into David Cameron and shot the video below. I was at two dinners with Emma Thompson and sat across the table from Howard Stringer and Jeff Zucker. That’s how nutty this place is.

* Best purchase I made was crampons for the heels of my shoes so I wouldn’t fall and break my ass on the steep climb to my hotel. I’m clumsy and it’s icy everywher, which is a perfect combination for personal disaster. Except I managed to spike my own pants. That’s just how clumsy I am.

* Every man at Davos was breathless at the beauty of Jordan’s Queen Rania. During one session, I looked up at her gigantic image on the screen behind her and was also dazzled by the countless diamonds on her big and beautiful earrings. I turned to a master of the one-liner behind me and said I wondered what they were worth. His response: “She’s worth it.”

* Davos versus other conferences: Better food, worse schwag. All I came away with was a U23D hat from Bono’s movie (which was promoted masterfully by Hollywood guy Sandy Climan and frequently by Al Gore), a Turkish tie (I didn’t know they liked ties), a YouTube kit hat (purposefully dorky), and a Google scarf (which you’d know only because it’s so damned red — there’s Google’s subtlety for you).

* I was enthralled watching Israeli investor Yossi Vardi at DLD and Davos. He’s a power behind technology, business, and politics (which means international politics) at Davos. He brings his companies along like ducks behind him and generously introduces him to everyone he can; I enjoyed meeting them all. He pulls together an annual breakfast for Shimon Peres, where we heard leaders from Jordan and Palestine and America talk about their common ground and common projects. Everyone knows Yossi. I talked with him about his investment philosophy and hope to talk with him again and write about it.

* Speaking of Yossi, there’s one leftover note from DLD in Munich that I didn’t have time to write about before I left: Yossi brought his friend, Israeli orchestral conductor Itay Talgam, to talk with the DLD crowd about management. It was magnificent. He showed us video of conductors Richard Mutti and Erich Kleiber, contrasting their styles and showing us how they inspired or limited creativity. Mutti is strict. Kleiber inspired and enjoys and gives his performers the room to create. I can’t do it justice in a blog post but if you have a convention or big business meeting, get this man there. Clay Shirky said afterwards that Talgam made him rethink some of the ways he teaches; me, too.

* Marcel Reichert of Burda and I talked about magazines’ position in the new media world before he went on a panel and we agreed that they have a strength because there is already a community around them that is waiting to be connected. Marcel came up with a word to describe this that I love: They are “precommunities.” Communities waiting to be enabled.

Davos08: The Davos Question & answers

Here’s my answer to the Davos question. In a word: transparency.

The question was: What one thing do you think that companies, countries, or individual must do to make the world a better place in 2008. A few hundred left responses before Davos. More than a hundred responded at Davos. Altogether, these videos have been watched more than 350,000 times.

Yes, the question and many of the answers are save, even rather insipid. But this was a symbolic act that had an impact at Davos. This is what I wanted to do last year when the Davos Conversation was started (disclosure: I worked on that). I wanted to bring the faces and voices and views of the world into Davos and have the powerful there respond. And so it’s a start.

Google cofounder Sergey Brin is asked what Google can do to help voting. His answer: YouTube.

Rick Warren, pastor at a megachurch and author of megabooks, uses his moment to promote “the faith sector” to equal status to the public and private sectors of society. “The Christian church is bigger than China. It’s bigger than India. It’s bigger than China and India together,” he brags.

Bono tells people not to let politicians slip on the Millennium Goals:

Yo Yo Ma tells us to work hard and be loving:

Hamid Karzai just tells us to be nice:

Here’s my video of Henry Kissinger:

Here’s the summary of the outsiders’ comments shown to the opening of Davos:

Davos08: The Google environment

The other day, I live-blogged the Google Foundation conversation about its work in energy and other areas. What fascinated me was seeing a world as run by engineers. YouTube put up the full video: