Starting today, I’ll be putting my new book onto Medium, all of it for free.
Geeks Bearing Gifts: Imagining New Future for News is an essay that metastasized into a book. It is my attempt to answer the question I’m often asked: “OK, smartass, now that your damned, beloved internet has ruined news, what next?” When asked what I had to say about paywalls or advertising or the fate of the article or the ideas behind social journalism, I wanted something to point to. This is that. It is not a prediction or a prescription but instead a call to focus on the opportunities technology presents to news rather than the problems. A snippet from the introduction, which I’m posting today:
If I had a plan, I’d be eliminating possibilities. I’d be predicting the future and prescribing it. But I’m not trying to do that. If we define the future today, we’ll do so in the terms of our past. Horseless carriages. We still have more imagining to do. That’s what this essay is: an exercise in personal brainstorming — one I’d like to see undertaken by journalism students, journalism teachers, journalists, publishers, media companies, technologists, investors, activists, and anyone who cares about news and society. If we don’t imagine many futures, we can’t build any. We must start by questioning three key industrial assumptions about news, or we’ll never get past trying to preserve them.
* First, that the natural role of the public in relation to journalism is as the mass, as an audience — or as my friend Rosen calls them now, the people formerly known as the audience. Who are they today? What roles can they play? How does this shift in roles affect the value of the journalist in this new relationship? In the first part of this essay, I will propose different perspectives for conceiving of the role of journalism in society: as a service, a builder of platforms, an organizer, an advocate, a teacher, an incubator. I will argue that journalism must learn how to get into the relationship business; that, I believe, can be a foundation for a new business strategy for the news industry.
* Second, that the article is the atomic unit and necessary product of news and that journalists are storytellers. Articles, I am sure, will remain a key tool journalists will use to add value to a flow of information — with narrative, organization, context, summary, example, and discussion. But in the second part of this essay, I will try to move past the article or story to examine other forms news may take: as data (our current darling) and also as functionality, as platforms, as sets of information assets with many paths through them, as curation, as conversations.
* The final assumption: That old business models can be recreated in a new reality, that newsrooms will (or won’t) be preserved, that print won’t (or will) survive, that people will or should (or won’t) pay for news, that advertising must (or can’t) support news, that media companies will control news (or die). I don’t believe that news is in jeopardy. We see increased access to news, interest in it, need for it, means of sharing it, and discussion about it online. I don’t think demand is the problem. Business models most certainly are a problem (though to say that business models are the only problem is to fool ourselves into thinking that the rest of journalism needn’t change). So I will concentrate in the third part of this essay on possible new models, including some we have been studying at the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism, which I direct at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism. The goal is to find sustainable — that is, profitable — support for news. But that is not merely a discussion of replacing lost revenue; we also must examine new efficiencies in what will surely be smaller, post-monopoly news enterprises. Mostly, we must concentrate on where and how journalism adds value to a community’s knowledge and only then consider how it can extract value for its sustenance. So perhaps the news industry must think past the idea that it is in the content, advertising, and distribution businesses. Perhaps we should ask whether — like Google and Facebook — news instead should be a service that helps people accomplish their goals. Here I return to the relationship strategy for news and explore the opportunity to build new business models around value over volume.
I’ll be posting every chapter of the book on Medium, one or a few at a time, over the coming weeks. Of course, you can still make our publishing imprint and my bosses happy by buying the book or the Kindle or you can buy it directly from our friends at OR books.
This week at my journalism school, we held a summit on innovation and gave the Knight Innovation Award to Vice’s Shane Smith. My great and good friend Bill Gross started off the day with a keynote about what he has learned starting 125 companies. I recommend it highly. As you watch it, imagine what journalism could be if it were filled with entrepreneurs like Bill and Shane who saw problems at things to solve and found opportunities there.
I want to thank the wonderful Kate Lee at Medium and the great creative services team there for making Geeks Bearing Gifts look so great. I will be posting the first chapter tomorrow.