We presented our CUNY New Business Models for News at the Aspen Institute and on the web yesterday. I’ve been sitting in meetings nonstop, so I haven’t had the chance to read all the reaction yet. But so far, we’ve met our goals: to get these models and specifics discussed and to inform that discussion.
After I presented yesterday, someone around the august Aspen table said the one thing we can be assured of is that the models are wrong. Exactly. We want you – people with experience and knowledge – to come in and give us new information to better inform the models and discussion. TechCrunch, for example, questioned our penetration numbers and I think they’re right to. That is precisely the kind of debate we need to be more specific and more realistic.
Our models are a hypothetical look at the ecosystem that will grow after a major metro market loses its paper, an ecosystem populated by hyperlocal sites, some form of new news organization(s), a framework that enables networks to form to maximize value, and publicly supported journalism. They use the lingua franca of the current business – CPMs, pageviews per user… – because we found it easiest to understand the structure this way, but we certainly hope that we will move past those old assumptions.
The way to move past is to encourage innovation and investment and we hope that we are showing the potential for sustainable news businesses, platforms, and networks.
What we need to do now is move past the crowd in Aspen to the bloggers, journalists, entrepreneurs, technologists, and investors who will build this new world using tools that exist and inventing new ones and building new value through new relationships. So we will present and discuss our work back in New York in a few weeks (sorry for the delay, but that’s one side effect of my surgery). There we hope for more discussion on the specifics of the models.
Here at Aspen, the most inspiring idea I have heard came from Google’s Marissa Mayer, who went past the old web to imagine what’s next: not hyperlocal news sites but hyperpersonal news streams. Of course, we see the start of that in Facebook and Twitter. Mayer emphasized to the media folks at Aspen that they must go to where the people are and not expect the people to come to them (“if the news is that important, it will find me”). How does news become part of my stream?
Mayer – like me – has also been talking about what comes after the article: the topic page that covers a story as an ongoing process rather than as a finished product. Add this to our hyperpersonal news streams – and to the news potential of Google Wave – and the biorhythm and source of news changes fundamentally.
So does the business. In our models, we forecast 12 pageviews per user per month knowing that is shameful – against the hundreds that Facebook gets – but it is, sadly, the industry norm. Mayer’s vision is sure to create far greater engagement – more traffic, more advertising opportunities; far greater targeting – and far higher ad rates and value; and far greater revenue.
We need to change the fundamentals of news, not just a few revenue lines.
Also here at Aspen, I was amazed and impressed to hear newspaper owner Dean Singleton tell some of us that his Salt Lake City paper has bought a realty agency and will list homes for a flat fee of a few thousand. Yes, the paper undercuts other agencies’ listings businesss. But, hey, the agencies have pretty much abandoned newspapers and newspapers still have readers and the ability to market homes in print and online. In Salt Lake’s case, the paper will send buyers – rather than sellers – to agencies that advertise.
When I worked in the newspaper industry way back at the start of the consumer web, I tried to convince papers to just this: to get into the real estate business to get homes into the listings and to get access to listings data. I thought I was going to be killed. But I believe that this was an inevitability.
Singleton’s move is the ecommerce strategy we presented in our models made substantial and real. We talked with the Telegraph’s Edward Roussel about their sales of wine, hangers, and hats. Selling homes is certainly bigger ticket. It monetizes the relationship papers have with readers in a new and smart way.
The third idea of note I’ve heard in Aspen is one Craig Newmark raised in a discussion of the need to build trust in the news. He suggested that he would pay someone to fact check a story he reads in the paper. In a sense, this is just Spot.US pushed later in the process of news: rather than underwriting the reporting of a story, you underwrite the verification and editing. What do you think of the idea? Would you contribute to fact-checking particular news stories?
When Craig said this, I also imagined an auction marketplace for editing. What if I could take a blog post I wrote and could hire someone for a fee to fact-check it for me? Yes, you often do that for me. But wouldn’t it say a lot for a post or an article if you knew that the author had hired help to make sure it was right?
While I’m at it, I’ll take this one step farther: We need an outlet to perform more immediate media criticism, fact-checking, and disinformation-checking – not just thumb-sucking about the state of media but specific checks. Take a look at the ABC (Australia’s) Media Watch. I want that in the U.S. What The New York Times did tracking down the malevolent meme about federal death panels for grandma is what we need all the time.
So what if we had better mechanisms to check news before and after it is “done” and distributed?
Much of the rest of the discussion at Aspen is what you’d expect given the crowd: a fair amount of fear and protection. But I’m heartened that much of what we discussed in our models became part of the discussion here: a presumption that, even if papers don’t die (as was our starting point) there are and will be hyperlocal blogs and networks and new news organizations and frameworks to support them. Now we need to build and support them.
The most important single number we presented in Aspen was not a projection but a present reality: In our research, we found hyperlocal bloggers bringing in $100,000 and even up to $200,000 in ad revenue and we believe that can be optimized by at least 50 percent with the creation of metro, local, and ecommerce networks and with better training, technologies, and efficiencies.
There are bloggers who want to serve their communities and unemployed journalists who want to continue reporting for their communities and communities need more information. So we want to help by doing research and proposing needs and perhaps inspiring investment, invention, training, and the creation of networks and platforms.
Where others see problems (failing newspapers), we see opportunities and needs.
: LATER: Somewhat related: Jim Cramer says he’d short media companies, that journalism businesses aren’t working, that magazines are doomed, and that private equity companies should have called reporters before calling their employers.