Posts about newsinnovation

Entrepreneurial journalism is not an oxymoron

This week, we held the second annual jurying in the entrepreneurial journalism class I teach at CUNY. Damn, it’s fun. And it’s inspiring to see journalists act as entrepreneurs and to see journalistic innovation.

The students propose a new, sustainable, journalistic enterprise. We define journalism broadly. The winners were a platform for educators and students to share lessons in a complex field; a service for a large diaspora; and a company serving news radio over phone calls. (I’m being vague on purpose since these ideas are the students’ own.) Others included coverage of graffiti, one New York neighborhood, one street in a New York neighborhood with a strong social scene (call it nanolocal), Copenhagen, the web itself, and charities. There were also platforms for social bargain hunting and sharing, a new kind of political party, and explaining complex stories. They each emphasized using many media to do the job.

The winners received seed money to actually start their businesses thanks to a grant from the McCormick Foundation.

The jury: Adam Bly of Seed and Science Blogs; Ed Sussman, who’s working on a new Drupal-based community startup; Upendra Shardanand, founder of Daylife; Michael Rosenblum of RosenblumTV (who blogged the experience here); Susan Rerat, ex of Conde Nast; Matt Drapkin, a private equity man; Mark Josephson, CEO of Outside.in; Joan Feeney, a longtime colleague and consultant; and Jim Willse, editor of the Star-Ledger.

I love teaching this class. The students’ ideas change, sometimes radically, as the course goes on and as they learn more about business and challenge themselves (as guests and fellow students do) – they act like good entrepreneurs. They understand the importance of learning the business, not something I learned in J-school. They look at the world in new ways and see new opportunities.

Last year’s winner took jobs but two or three may still start their businesses. One lesson, among many, that I learned from last year is that new businesses like these need support, and that is why we received a $3 million matching grant from the Tow Foundation to start a Center for Journalistic Innovation, which will include an incubator to support development such as this – from independent entrepreneurs, companies, and the industry as well – with space, advice, and connections.

In the spring, I’m going to teach a truncated version of the course at the Sorbonne with Eric Scherer of the AFP. Dan Gillmor also teaches journalistic entrepreneurship at Arizona as does Rich Gordon at Northwestern. The more, the better. Journalism is not going to preserve itself into the next era; it must innovate its growth. That’s what this course really teaches – not just business and journalism but invention and change.

A complete ecology of news

Dave Winer called my scenario for the future of (local) news a “nightmare,” which may be a bit strong but gets the point across.

Dave wisely and eloquently tries to get away from old assumptions about news, who operates it and how and tries to abstract it to its constituent elements. I’ll agree and disagree with him – or actually, agree with him and then add to it – as I try to draw a picture of a complete ecology of news here.

In one post, Dave says (my emphases):

Think about news as its constituent components, not in the bizarro news world we live in, think about news in the actual world. The components are: sources, facts, ideas, opinions, readers.

The challenge of the news industry, to the extent that there is one, is to connect the first four items with the last item. I don’t think you need a reporter and editor to do that. I don’t think they were doing their jobs anyway, they were being very selective about what sources, facts, ideas and opinions we could have.

I want it all, and I don’t want anyone saying what I can and can’t have.

In a following post, Dave gives us a different expression of the point:

If they [newspapers] could consider other points of view, two in particular, they might get somewhere. The two points of view are:

1. People with news.

2. People who want news.

Source and destination. Reporters are distributors. And editors are facilitators of distribution.

If the people with the news can publish it themselves, and they can; what’s to stop the people who want the news from reading it directly.

I think he’s right in identifying his first four components as the base of news and in identifying the essential relationships in gathering and sharing news. I have long said that gathering and sharing what the public knows will form much – most, even almost all – of news. But not all. There are things missing.

Missing from what? A complete picture. How do I define complete? Complete enough to inform society, to tell us what we need to know. Need or want? That’s a tough decision but I think the proper verb for this discussion is “need” (“want” tends to conjure images of Britney Spears, but I can argue either way). Who determines that need? Society – not the press. But the press, properly deployed and supported, can help assure that need is met. Who’s the press? Anyone can be. So what adds up to completeness? Tasks that need to be actively pursued to add value to the base Dave and I agree forms the foundation of news. I’ll outline those components shortly.

I need to be very careful here not to fall into the traps of (1) defining this ecology of news as the press – newspapers – would define it, from their perspective and (2) defining the tasks as if journalists (as formerly defined) must perform them. I will try hard to be agnostic to both, instead looking at what I think forms a complete ecology of news. Neither should we assume the form of news (see this about moving past the article, and this about rethinking the interview).

First, I’ll reiterate that I believe Dave is quite right in defining his components and how they will be gathered and shared: The public knows and wants to know and in a marketplace of information the internet now enables – with new tools that cannot be imagined in any well-intentioned scenario such as mine (see: Twitter) – that information will flow freely. So what’s missing? Or better yet, what value can be added atop this base? How can it be made better and operate more effectively? What needs and opportunities lie there? Those are the questions I try to concentrate on.

* Reporting. I’ll define this as getting information that people don’t know and/or don’t want to share. This is most commonly seen as investigation: finding out that the mayor is on the take, which may be revealed only by asking the right questions or demanding the right documents and understanding where to look. There is also the case of reporting that asks a question that has not been asked, as researchers do (e.g., what is the impact of the internet on friendship?). Reporting in this definition is an active, not passive, activity of digging, discovering, demanding and in a complete ecology of news – in an informed society and democracy and economy – it is not just a luxury but, I’ll argue, a necessity. (Again, keep in mind, I’m agnostic on who does the reporting; I’m saying that this is a different function from information transport.)

* Organization. Dave says he wants it all. Damned straight. That is to say that we don’t want others to filter, stop, or control information. It was Dave who coined the important notion of the river of news – and wanted no dams on it. Amen. But…. There are also times when we need and want organization. That could be curation (which, in Dave’s posts, Paul Krugman’s blog links provide). It could be summary (which Wikipedia amazingly provides even and especially in providing snapshots of knowledge in big news events – though without the curation of links). In the Mumbai story, GroundReport curated – or organized and facilitated – people, finding Twitterers in Mumbai – amid thousands who were not – to report and write. There are many means and tools to provide organization – bloggers, Digg, blog search, Daylife, GoogleNews, Technorati… My point is only that this is a function – a value – that sits atop the base. And when we all do news, “organization” brings new definitions and opportunities.

* Editing. Editing is such a loaded word, bringing baggage of control and orthodoxy. Keep in mind that here, you are my editors and I greatly value and need (almost all of) your editing. I’m also mindful of the incredible help my book editor, Ben Loehnen at Collins, gave me. Trying to get past the traps I listed above – who performs the tasks and the history of them – let’s try to define the real values of editing. They include vetting facts, clarifying language, asking questions, filling in gaps, adding perspective. Editing is, by definition, value added to the flow of information (when it does, indeed, add value).

* Education. Among all the things I say about news, this is actually the most out-there but gets the least attention. I argue that when everyone does news and wants to do it better, education is a key value to add. Michael Rosenblum does this when he teaches hundreds of people who want to learn how to make better video. Newspapers in the U.K. have been doing this when they tell people how to file effective FOIAs. The Media Bloggers Association does this when it organizes classes in libel law so bloggers can both avoid going to court and get insurance. Journalists were not generous with their knowledge, neither were journalism educators. Again, I’ll get past those old roles in this discussion and say that sharing knowledge about how to better share information is an important value to add to the base. It’s often – usually – not necessary, but it can be helpful for those who want and need it and those who have it would be wise to share.

* Functionality. It may be a mistake to make this a separate value, as technology is primarily a tool of organization. Twitter helps us organize ourselves into conversation. Technorati and Google help us organize our information. But I think it’s important to recognize that just as the internet itself is a tool of sharing our information, its component parts and inventions facilitate and add great value to that.

* Economy. Here Dave and I have disagreed in the past so I want to be careful in this, too, to avoid the traps above, assuming the definitions of the economy of the news industry as it stands. In most of this ecology, the sharing will happen because of generosity and need, without currency. Indeed, information is its own currency. And it would be a mistake to try to define the economy based on the supposed need of its participants (the old, “who’s going to pay for my newsroom?” argument). Instead, as in all economies, when the base – the free exchange – does not meet a need, sometimes it is necessary to pay to fill that need. Let’s say I want to shine as much sunlight as possible on school boards in New Jersey and convince hundreds of people to podcast their board meetings. But I can find no one in Trenton, which needs it most. I decide it’s so important I pay someone to reliably perform the task. I could do that out of goodness and charity, but if there are the means to support that with commerce (e.g., contributions or advertising), I can support and might be able to expand the service. There are opportunities there just as there are needs. I believe that just as software companies can grow out of such opportunity, so can news enterprises that help society better inform itself. I see that as real value atop the base and I also see it as a necessity to get to what I hope is a complete ecology of news and a better informed society.

One side of this discussion will get mad at me for not protecting the role and jobs of journalists. The other side will get mad at me for trying to involve journalists. Here’s my perspective: In one of the many fact-checking queries that apparently amended copy left on the cutting-room floor for the Observer article, John Koblin asked a thought-provoking question about defining myself as a utopian or an earth-scorcher or such (I forget his choices). I said I tried to be a realist about the forces at work in media, technology, and society today and an optimist about the opportunities these bring tomorrow. I’m not trying to kill journalists’ jobs nor do I see it as my role or in my power to protect them. I am trying to understand the inevitable changes occurring – and help spur conversation about them – and then to see opportunities in them, which I believe is the only sane and productive response to change. (Protection, in one of my favorite chestnuts, is not a strategy for the future.)

I hope that journalists will see and seize the opportunities at hand just as I celebrate the opening of news – its definitions and functions – to a vast and broad array of people. I value that new and open exchange of information and news greatly and where it is possible or necessary to add value, great.

So… I agree with Dave that the components of news are sources, facts, ideas, and opinions, though I’ll say the fifth is not readers – following Jay Rosen’s first pronouncement at the first Bloggercon Dave organized – but us, all of us, no matter what role we play. Those roles, I agree with Dave, start with those who have and want or need news. But to that I add the roles and values I outlined here: reporting, organization, editing, education, functionality (or facilitation), and in an economy of some sort – with or without money – supporting that.

Dave concludes his first post:

Now, I’m not glad to see the news industry go that way, I’ve been pleading with them to embrace the future, to stop fighting it, to accept the changes, to give up their point of view. I think it’s still possible to do it, and save some of what they’ve built, but not so much anymore. But it’s going to take some major shifting of point of view to get there. And us users don’t really have much reason to care anymore.

Exactly. But we all care about news.

[I accidentally published this before I was finished editing… as if I’m ever finished. So there are a few changes from the first RSS.]

When witnesses take over the news

I’m writing a Media Guardian column on the news after Mumbai: When witnesses take over the news, the impact on our experience of news, the impact on the news event itself, on the role of journalists, on what new we need in news (organization), on what comes next (live video, of course, and assigning witnesses). As always, I’m grateful for your observations, opinions, and links.

: Great collection of links here (via sujeet).

: Wonderful observation about the absurdity of joining pundits on American TV to talk about news from Amit Varma, who found safety in a hotel hard on one of the attacks.

I was on Larry King Live on CNN about three hours ago. They called me and asked me to be on the show as an eyewitness, at which I protested that I hadn’t actually seen anything, I was merely in the vicinity. But they’d read what I wrote in this post earlier, and they wanted me to talk about that. So I agreed, and came on briefly. King asked me if I’d actually seen any terrorists—I felt guilty that I couldn’t offer him any dope there.

Deepak Chopra was also on the show, speculating that the attacks had taken place because terrorists were worried about Barack Obama’s friendly overtures to Muslims. (I know: WTF?) That sounded pretty ridiculous to me, but such theories are a consequence of our tendency as a species to want to give gyan [knowledge]. A media pundit, especially, feels compelled to have a narrative for everything. Everything must be explicable, and television expects instant analysis.

This is foolish, for sometimes events are complicated, and we simply need to wait for more information to emerge before we can understand it. But many of us—not just the pundits—don’t have the humility to accept that. We want to feel in control, at least on an intellectual level, so reasons and theories emerge. But the world is really far too complicated for us. Yet somehow we muddle along.

The right kind of gyan, in the immediate aftermath of this, is historical perspective, which Christiane Amanpour provided on King’s show. Anything else is premature.

: Amy Gahran tries to track down the rumor – and that’s what it is; an unconfirmed and unsourced reprort – that Mumbai police asked tweeters to stop.

: Mindy McAdams on 10 changes in the news.

A scenario for news

In the snarkoff recently about my holding journalists to account for the state and fate of journalism, commenters asked with good reason where I say journalism will be done, how we’re doing to watch government, and where the money will come from. I don’t have answers to those questions; I have guesses, notions, wishes. All I know is that we must explore and experiment with many models to find and invent what will work (that’s why we held the New Business Models for News Summit at CUNY).

It’s fair to expect me to put forward scenarios for the future of news. In a sense, that’s all I ever do here, but there’s no one permalink summarizing my apparently endless prognostication. So here is a snapshot of – a strawman for – where I think particularly local news might go. What follows is just a long – I’m sorry – summary of what I’ve written here over time and an extension of the one model I think we need to expand coming out of the conference, where one lesson I took away is that news – on both the content and business side – will no longer be controlled by a single company but will be collaborative.

* The next generation of local (news) won’t be about news organizations but about their communities. News is just one of the community’s needs. It also needs elegant organization. News companies and networks can help provide that. The bigger goal is to provide platforms that enable communities to do what they want to do, share what they want to share, know what they need to know together. News will become a product of the community as much as it is a service to it.

* The local news organization inevitably will be smaller because it no longer holds a monopoly in a scarcity economy. I’ve been accused of celebrating that shrinkage at the summit. That’s an artless and deliberate mischaracterization of what I said. I lauded the courage of the people in the room to start from the ground up and figure out what they could afford – to at last be realistic. In a market the size of Philadelphia, based on feasible audience and ad revenue, rather than a 200-400-person newsroom, they came out with 35 people and the job descriptions were different: lots of content creators, few editors, and the addition of people to work with the community. That was a start.

* News will emerge from networks. As I said after the conference, no one believes that 35-person staff can cover Philadelphia as the 300-person newsroom did; they will have to collaborate with the community, with, we hope, a network of a thousand or thousands. Some people will freely contribute to the news network’s efforts, recording school-board meetings for podcasts, say. Some will be former staff journalists now on their own. Many people will operate independently, as Deb Galant does in New Jersey. Some will be bloggers. Some will be freelancers. Many will need to be paid or they won’t join.

What I hope emerges are small, local Glams that provide support to members of the networks – ad revenue, content, promotion, training – so they grow. This is the fabled and as yet unattained hyperlocal news network. That support will come from those new job descriptions (editorial and business) in new news organizations and from other companies that build platforms. It’s hard to be Deb and operate totally alone; I hope that once networks exist, they will enable and encourage more to start reporting and join in. And that, I hope, can expand journalism past the necessary limitations of the old newsroom. Journalism can grow. But first, we have to create the platforms and networks for local news that will help it grow.

* The heart of the work of local news organizations will be beats. Dogging a beat with reporting is the unique value a news organization can contribute to the press-sphere. Those beats will surely include local government but likely should not include areas that are not local, like science or movies. Beat reporters will not just be producing stories. They will open the process of news in blogs. They will work collaboratively with experts, bloggers, and people in the community (see: Jay Rosen’s beatblogging).

* Editing will change. Editors will become more curators, aggregators, organizers, educators. Their jobs will be less about controlling a flow than encouraging and improving creation.

* Some – only some – journalism will be supported by the public. I have high hopes for David Cohn’s Spot.us with readers supporting reporters’ stories. We all hope NPR and its model can prosper and grow (though at a local level, that will happen only if stations create strong local value). Who isn’t also rooting for ProPublica? I hope its model can extend investigative reporting to local markets with local foundation and public support. See Richard Perez-Pena’s report on some such efforts.

* Investigative journalism will continue from the news organization and from collaborative efforts (see Ft. Meyers with its data-based investigations and Team Watchdog). The fear I hear constantly is that investigative journalism will be the first form to die. That would be foolish and news organizations will learn that. In a link-and-search economy, you must create unique content with strong value to get attention and audience. Investigations matter more than ever; they will have greater audience and thus business benefit. Note well that investigative and public-supported journalism will amount to a small proportion of the total journalistic effort. But also note that the resource that goes to investigations in traditional newsrooms today is also tiny (I’d estimate less than 1 percent). The seed of much investigation will still come from beat reporting and now it will also come more often from the public; execution will come from reporters and in collaborative projects. There are also new tools for investigators, starting with data analysis. With strong beat reporting, collaborative projects, and some public support, investigations could grow. But we can never have enough.

* Do what you do best and link to the rest will be a foundation of the future architecture of news. This is a necessity of efficiency – no one can afford to waste resources on commodity news – but also a necessity of the link economy, for it is through others’ links that original journalism will get attention and audience and the opportunity for monetization through advertising. Linking to journalism at its source – rather than matching it or rewriting it, as we have done – will become an ethic, a moral imperative of the new journalism.

* Specialization will take over much of journalism. We’ll no longer all be doing the same things – commodifying news – but will stand out and contribute uniquely by covering a niche deeply. Local newspapers, I believe, must specialize in being local and serving local communities. But journalists can specialize in other areas and links will feed them with audience. I use Brian Stelter’s old CableNewser.com as an object lesson here – he could cover cable news with more depth than any trade publication. See also Ed Silverman’s Pharmalot, which covered the pharma industry for the Star-Ledger but should and will become the source for the industry worldwide (while still interesting locals in the industry).

* Reverse syndication presents one possible model for supporting deep, specialized reporting of broad interest by national news organizations. For example, The LA Times should do a brilliant job covering the entertainment industry and as other papers and magazines lose their LA bureaus and cancel old syndication deals, The Times should tell them all to send audience to its coverage (giving back a share of revenue generated as a result) or The Times may share that coverage on other sites with its ads attached to help pay for it. The same can be true of Washington coverage; that is what Politico has started. The same will happen with foreign bureau coverage (see The Time’s Baghdad bureau, which the paper often tells us costs $3 million a year – more traffic won’t fully support it but it could help; see also Charlie Sennott’s international startup). The old syndication model will die, for there’s no longer a market for the second copy of a story. And the wire-service model is in jeopardy, for it commodifies news and cuts links to the journalism at its source and is expensive. I think reverse syndication as well as new ways to share original journalism are worth exploring.

* News will find new forms past the article, which will include any media, wiki snapshots of knowledge, live reports, crowd reports, aggregation, curation, data bases, and other forms not yet created.

* News organizations will be disaggregated as many functions are split off or outsourced. They will jettison production and distribution, the nonjournalistic, nonsales departments that add up to 60 percent of a paper’s cost structure.

* News organizations won’t be the only companies involved in news. Just as journalism will be collaborative, so will sales and technology be. EveryBlock will organize data; Outside.in will organize geo content; Daylife will organize news; Publish2 will organize links; Digg will help the crowd curate; Clickable will help sell ads; Google will serve ads; YouTube and Brightcove will serve videos; and on and on. (Disclosure: I’m a partner at Daylife and board member at Publish2.)

* Revenue will still come from advertising. The best hope is to find ways to serve a new population of small advertisers who never could afford to use newspapers before along with some aggregation of audience for regional advertisers. See Fred Wilson’s prescription from the summit.

This is just one scenario for one slice of journalism. I also will talk about national and international coverage, collaborative tools, APIs and other new means of distribution, and more. I wonder how we can make journalism using a million phones recording and broadcasting video (around any nation’s censors) or Mechanical Turk (a thousand eyes digging into documents) or algorithms mining newly transparent government documents….

Note well that none of this is new. The essential functions of journalism – reporting, watching, sharing, answering, explaining – and its verities – factualness, completeness, fairness, timeliness, relevance – are eternal, but the means of performing them are multiplying magnificently. That is why I so enjoy teaching journalism, because we need no longer pick a medium and its tools for a career but can select them every time we need to tell a story – and because journalism is no longer about preservation (it never should have been) but is instead about change and growth.

Could journalism die? Yes, but I have faith and optimism that it will survive, evolve, and grow. I believe there will be a growing market demand for journalism; I know there is a growing need.

In the day – when I was starting in this business and covered him – the late Mayor Daley of Chicago used to respond to his critics saying, “What trees do they plant?” Say what you will about him, Hizzoner planted trees. This is my sapling. But that’s all it is. We need many, many scenarios and – far more important – we need people in the position to execute, experiment, adapt, invent, and share what they do … fast.

: LATER: See Seth Godin’s prescription for The New York Times: a curated network:

The Times has always used freelancers and stringers to report and contribute to the paper. But how many? Why doesn’t the paper have 10,000 stringers, each with a blog, each angling to be picked up by the central site? You wouldn’t have to pay much per story to build a semi-pro cadre of writers and reporters. When you organize the news (delivering unique perspectives to people who want to hear them) you influence the conversation.

New news

Good on Richard Perez-Pena for reporting on new sites doing strong local reporting and investigations — and good on The New York Times for playing it on page one: “As America’s newspapers shrink and shed staff, and broadcast news outlets sink in the ratings, a new kind of Web-based news operation has arisen in several cities, forcing the papers to follow the stories they uncover.”

OK, so there was one reflexive snipe at the internet: “Their news coverage and hard-digging investigative reporting stand out in an Internet landscape long dominated by partisan commentary, gossip, vitriol and citizen journalism posted by unpaid amateurs.” Yeah, yeah, yeah.

What Perez-Pena’s story makes clear is that there are new models for creating reporting, that there is a demand for that reporting, and that there are journalists who will do it.

The business angle bears further investigation — and we’ll do that at the CUNY New Business Models for News Project (finishing a MacArthur Grant and starting on a new McCormick Foundation grant).

Perez-Pena says that “publishing online means operating at half the cost of a comparable printed paper, but online advertising is not robust enough to sustain a newsroom.” Actually, the cost is way less than half; I refer you to Edward Roussel’s chart from the New Business Models for News summit.

Revenue is also way less than half — and much or all of that is coming from contributions in the sites Perez-Pena profiles — but it’s also important to measure how much is spent on such reporting from big organizations today — how much are we trying to replace (or increase!) — and how this fits into a bigger ecosystem of local news, the new press-sphere.

News will not come from one organization anymore. It will come from a collection of organizations, networks, individuals, companies, technologies, and collaborative projects each operating under different business models. What Perez-Pena profiles is a slice of the new news pie. It will take other slices from other players to add up to a whole.

Still, the recognition by the Gray Lady of these new girls in town is an important moment in the evolution of news.