This is a big opportunity for anyone who wants to take a beat — covering a town or part of a city or covering a topic or serving a community — and make that into a sustainable business (that is, one that will feed the journalist). At CUNY’s Tow-Knight Center, we will be running tuition-free training and mentorship starting this summer for the 15 best applicants who come to us.
There are now lots of examples of beat businesses that are sustainable: hyperlocal services like Baristanet, West Seattle Blog, Red Bank Green, plus business-to-business sites like Skift, and no end of tech blogs, and many more. We know what that business needs to succeed, in content, in marketing, in sales, in technology.
I wrote in my book about beat businesses as the building blocks of new news ecosystems. I have been doing a lot of work in New York and especially in New Jersey — in partnership with the Dodge Foundation, the Knight Foundation, Montclair State, and others — to support the ecosystem there.
Now we must grow the ecosystem. That is what this training is about.
And now we must support journalists who want to continue serving communities even though they no longer work for newspapers or other news outlets.
At CUNY, we are hiring great trainers who have helped many of the existing businesses, Janet and Rusty Coats. They, in turn, are bringing on experienced mentors to give ongoing support. All the details of the training are here. You will come out of this program with a realistic, workable business and product plan, and access to a powerful network of fellow entrepreneurs and media experts.
All you need to do is have the energy and passion to serve a community. You tell us what community that is and why you think you’re right to do it. We will help you start.
And if you’re lucky enough to work in New Jersey or New York, you will get even more ongoing support with well-established networks in both places.
So apply. Or pass it on to a journalist or community member who wants to turn a beat into a living.
Time for another free chapter of Geeks Bearing Gifts: Imagining New Futures for News. In the last chapter, I wrote about beats as businesses and building blocks of a new news ecosystem. Now I write about the rest of the ecosystem. Vertically integrated companies, industries, and monopolies that dominated news are new replaced with messy, growing (I hope) ecosystems made up of many players operating under many different motives and business models.
As specialists, beats are efficient. But they are hardly sufficient to meet the complete needs of the larger community. Other, larger entities are required to complement and bring quality and scale to coverage, distribution, and advertising. These additional entities can become efficient and sustainable because together, all these enterprises, large and small, can benefit one another — if they learn to collaborate. These entities can include new news organizations, reformed legacy institutions, not-for-profit investigative organizations, public media, specialists of various sorts, networks, and enterprises I’ve not yet seen or imagined. Together, they make up the new news ecosystem.
Here’s chapter 4 of Geeks Bearing Gifts: Imagining New Futures for News about news ecosystems and the New Jersey model, posted to Medium for free. A snippet:
This notion of an ecosystem can be confusing as we leave an era dominated by monolithic media — large, vertically integrated companies with tangible products, obvious control over scarce resources, and clear brands. Now we have this untidy hydra we call an ecosystem. No one is in charge. It has huge blank spots — there are 565 towns in New Jersey, each an opportunity for corruption needing a watchdog, and only a few dozen of them covered. There is no longer a single, simple business model: circulation + advertising. Quality and credibility are sometimes question marks. Surely, you say, this is not an improvement. Perhaps not yet, but it can be. My state is a blank slate where innovation and collaboration can bloom, where more voices than ever can be heard, where citizens can end up better informed and more engaged than they were. But to get there, the ecosystem needs help and its members need to help each other. Members of an ecosystem can share content, audience, and best practices. They can share effort on collaborative projects, accomplishing more together than they could alone. They can share revenue through joint advertising sales and other activities, like events. They can also save on expenses by pooling their purchasing power for space, technology, or services. Later, when I explore new efficiencies for news, I will examine the impact of the link on a news ecosystem: how it forces each member to specialize and concentrate on what it does best and how it enables every member of an ecosystem to link to its complementary colleagues. Members of an ecosystem eventually learn a Golden Rule of linking: Linking to others is a service to readers and a courtesy to the site that receives the link. Linking can and should be a virtuous circle.
Last week, I said that the future of news is entrepreneurial (not institutional). Today, a sequel: The future of business is in ecosystems (not conglomerates or industries).
At the Foursquare conference last week, I was struck by the miss-by-a-mile worldviews held by the chiefs of big, old conglomerates and the entrepreneurs starting new, nimble companies. The conference is off the record, so I won’t quote anyone by name. And in truth, these are the same conversations I hear often elsewhere. Having these different tribes conveniently in the same room merely focused the contrast for me.
In one moment, a very successful mogully man was slack-jawed in amazement at how little money – “$50,000!” – one of three entrepreneurs had used to start another fast-growing enterprise. The big man thinks big – that’s what made him big. The small guys think small and get big by using existing platforms and depending on their users to like and market them. To the new guys, it’s so obvious.
Here was the key moment for me last week: In a discussion about the importance of distribution, some start-up guys – each the creators of new enterprises that took off like gun shots – were asked by a representative of the big, old club which company they would most want to do distribution deals with. The start-up guys cocked their heads like confused puppies. Why would we want to do that? they asked. What was unsaid: Doing a deal with one company would be so limiting. We get our distribution through customers and developers, through embedding and APIs and social connections. That’s how we grew so big so fast for so little. Don’t you see that?
No, they don’t.
This week, we see this contrast, too, in Rupert Murdoch’s threat – he thinks it’s a threat – to cut off Google. Nose. Face. Cut. Spite. Murdoch – whodoesn’t use the internet – does not see how distribution works today. He does not understand that being open to the link economy brings him free distribution, free marketing, great benefit. That’s because he, like his fellow old machers, won by taking control rather than giving it up. This new world is utterly inside-out from the world they built. It breaks all their rules and makes new ones (which is what I tried to analyze in What Would Google Do?). That’s what makes it so damned hard for them to understand it.
In our New Business Models for News at CUNY, we saw quickly that a big, old newspaper company was not going to be replaced by a big, new newspaper company but that instead, news would come more and more from ecosystems made up of scores of companies operating under different means, motives, and models, each dependent on the others to optimize their success. That is why we built in networks that enable separate sites to join, creating critical mass they can sell to advertisers. That is also why we factored in the benefit of platforms, cutting their infrastructure costs to near-zero.
And there, I believe, is the structure of the future of business in the new, post-industrial, decentralized, opened economy. Oh, sure, every economy has always been an ecosystem made up of interdependent relationships. But they were based on zero-sum arithmetic: take and control so others cannot. They work at arm’s length. They negotiate every relationship.
Sure, even in the huggy ecosystem, companies fight and compete. But in an ecosystem-based economy, companies benefit – they find efficiency and growth – by working collaboratively. As I see it, the new economy and its opportunities will be built in three layers:
1. Platforms. There’s tremendous benefit in building a platform and the more people use to succeed, the more the platform succeeds. Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, eBay – you know all the examples.
2. Entrepreneurial enterprises. Thanks to the platforms, it’s incredibly inexpensive to start new companies. It’s also a helluva lot cheaper to fail (and try again). This is why I believe that the future of news – and many other industries – is entrepreneurial: because it can be. It’s not just media and its bits. It’s manufacturing (because you can use others’ factories and distribution channels and your own customers as your platforms).
3. Networks. It is still necessary to gather the smalls together into bigs: audience brought together so advertisers can buy access to them more easily; purchasing brought together to get better prices. So there is business in creating and serving these networks.
For the sake a PowerPoint, a diagram of the three layers of an ecosystem-based economy:
In our New Business Models for News Project, this is how I (crudely) drew the ecosystem for news.
How do you draw the conglomerate-based industry? With boxes, each separate, with arrows pointing to each other at a distance. Simplistic? Sure, but the change in the worldview of the new economy looks that basic when you hear the two tribes trying to understand each other.
After we had breakfast a week ago and talked about possible new roles for wire services in the new world, Wolfgang Büchner, who’s soon to take the top edit position at the Deutsche Presse Agentur (the German Associated Press), send me a link to this example of the agency curating and pointing to journalism at its source, which should surely be its most important job in the link economy.