Talk:Jtm-dc-next-newsroom

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On second thought ...

Maybe I should have read more about this before I signed up. I haven't read all the material yet, but I wonder whether this is expecting too much from the public.

And if publishing will only be digital, that makes me wonder whether it will leave out some of the audience or potential audience -- mainly, those who have less money and education. Also, possibly the elderly.

These factors might not be critical for any individual news outlet, but my limited understanding is that this project is intended to be a model.

Added slightly later: Also, some things are trade-offs. The benefits of a college community might be offset by the fact that the student population would have less interest in local news.

Maurreen 08:04, 15 July 2007 (EDT)

OK, reading The Next Newsroom blog has alleviated some of my concern -- mainly that this is intended to be widely accessible, through various means. Maurreen 17:39, 15 July 2007 (EDT)

Possible sites

  • College Park, Md., home of the University of Maryland
  • Tempe, Ariz., home of Arizona State University

I believe neither town has its own paper. Maurreen 14:31, 17 July 2007 (EDT)

Page split

Does anyone mind if the page is split into smaller sections? I think the length make it take longer to load and makes risk of losing some of the text during editing. Maurreen 14:31, 17 July 2007 (EDT)

Cramming in too much?

Two main observations:

1) I'm wondering whether this proposal is perhaps too ambitious for one project. There are a lot of ideas here for innovation that are purely theoretical, and if any one of them fails you won't be able to isolate it and learn from your mistakes for the next time. It seems that if you have too many experimental variables -- citizen journalism AND all digital AND tiered service sales AND rented computer tablets AND community ownership, etc., etc., etc., without carefully explaining how all these parts work together to bolster one another -- you multiply the risk factors and doom it perhaps never to be taken seriously by funders. So many of these ideas have never been tried, much less "profitably." Why hobble each of these good ideas by making them dependent on the others?

2) Fundamentally it's unclear to me what the unifying vision is for this project. This is important because the more simply and clearly the mission is articulated, the easier it will be to explain to the public. Some of the component ideas seem to contradict one another. For example, you say this is supposed to build community, and yet you ask people to "buy in" to a community ownership plan, thus excluding those who don't. You ask poor people to pay for premium services. You require a certain level of household income for your readers in order to please advertisers. How is this different from the market-driven status quo? Another example of mutually exclusive ideas appears in the section on revenue sources. How can you combine venture capital and foundation grants? The former usually go to for-profit ventures; the latter usually to nonprofits. It's like oil and water. It seems that unless you want this experiment to rely on the creation of a whole new hybrid business structure (perhaps by changing IRS regulations) you're not going to get very far with it. While it's nice to fantasize about legal, sociological and technological "what ifs," we will find more success if we learn from existing precedents and focus on creating alternatives that are concretely, demonstrably achievable in the United States in 2007. We would do much better to scale up or refine ideas that have already been tried.

The problem with this grab-bag first draft is that it combines several reform concepts that don't necessarily play well together (or come from the same philosophical starting point). This JTM session will be a meeting of 1) advocates for "noncommercial" professional journalism (myself included), 2) the "citizen" (as opposed to professional) journalism crowd, 3) futurist technologists who are inventing new media-consumption gadgets, 4) MSM tinkerers working to reform from within existing media companies, 5) TV-print-radio-photo-Web-mobile-kiosk-billboard-brainwave convergence enthusiasts, 6) "new journalism" apostles trying to move beyond the inverted pyramid.

This "stone soup" approach may or may not be successful. But keep in mind that really talented chefs don't let everyone in the kitchen all at once -- at least not all to add their favorite ingredients to the same pot. Scrumptious food concoctions are often notable for what they leave out. If you were planning the perfect dish, would you want it to be sweet, salty, bitter, sour, savory, creamy, crunchy, spicy, mild, sinful AND calorie free all at once? And even if it tasted divine in theory, I'd love to see that recipe.

-- Michael Stoll


Cramming will be resolved by our gathering

Mike/Maureen:

Yes, there is the flavor of a stone soup in the JTM-Next Newsroom blueprint. But that's intentional. The intend of our Aug. 7-8 gathering is to tap our collective wisdom, through initial circle-round discussion and then self-directed breakouts -- and winnow down the critical issues. A streamlined proposal could result; or two or three different proposals might be forked. Keep the critical assessment coming!

-- bill densmore

Winnowing and stages

Possibly the winnowing down would lead to a rough plan to work in stages, building on previous innovation and hopefully success. An outline of stages might be made for each of the following:

  • Business
  • Editorial
  • Technology
  • Possibly also community aspects

Some questions to consider:

  • What is most innovative?
  • What is most feasible?
  • (Based on Newspaper Next) What are "jobs to be done" for the community and its individual residents and advertisers? What do they want or need the most, even if they don't realize it yet? (This will be easier once a community is chosen.)
  • Specificially, who are possible or likely potential partners or funders? Keeping them in mind to some degree, how might the project be shaped?
  • More or less combining the above -- What would bring the most value?
Maurreen Skowran

Fundamental mission

Mike makes some good points. But possibly I can clarify one question.

He says:

"Fundamentally it's unclear to me what the unifying vision is for this project. This is important because the more simply and clearly the mission is articulated, the easier it will be to explain to the public."

My understanding is that the Next Newsroom plan is broadly intended to address two problems:

  • Local newspapers, and possibly also local TV news, are losing their audience and advertising support (and investor support), and
  • Local Internet news operations have weak revenue.

Possible funding

Foundations
  • Knight News Challenge -- "Knight Foundation has launched year two of the Knight News Challenge and plans to award as much as $5 million for innovative ideas using digital experiments to transform community news. Applications will be accepted until Oct. 15, 2007."
  • Also, the MacArthur Foundation is looking to do some funding in 'citizen journalism' which could support this.
  • And the W.K. Kellogg Foundation has indicated a potential interest in funding "on-the-ground" experiments in journalism that matters.
  • McCormick Tribune Foundation
  • Sunlight Foundation
Some of the financial supporters of Assignment Zero, New Assignment Net or both
Sponsors of JTM

Major support for Journalism That Matters: The DC Sessions, has been provided by the Mott Foundation, the Scripps Howard Foundation, FreePress.Net, George Washington University's School of Media & Public Affairs, The Media Giraffe Project at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Voxant Inc.'s News2020 Project. Additional support has been provided by The Washington Post Co., the Fetzer Institute, and the Kellogg Foundation.

Other
  • Echoing Green? -- "Echoing Green provides first-stage funding and support to visionary leaders with bold ideas for social change. As an angel investor in the social sector, Echoing Green identifies, funds, and supports the world’s most exceptional emerging leaders and the organizations they launch. Through a two-year fellowship program, we help passionate social entrepreneurs develop new solutions to some of society’s most difficult problems. These social entrepreneurs and their organizations work to address deeply-rooted social, economic, and political inequities to ensure equal access and help all individuals reach their potential."

Brainstorming -- ideal community Web site

Possibly this is more cramming, but here goes anyway.

Essentially, a newspaper should be metaphorically a town plaza -- whatever you want or need, the plaza is the place to start. If it's not at the plaza, you can find it starting from there.

Formerly, if you had a newspaper, phone book and a map, you were pretty well set. The phone book and the map gave you static info. The newspaper gave you the latest info -- not just news stories, but school lunch menus, comics, movie showtimes, classified ads, etc.

Now people can get much of that from national or international Web sites that aggregate a bunch of local and regional information. People essentially use subject "go-to" portals instead of local portals.

So I think one main thing would be for the project to produce a site that becomes the indispensable site for local info. Anyone who wants to know about x community -- or do anything online concerning that community -- just needs to go to y site.

But it also needs to be recognized as such. Besides considering what that site would offer, a large factor might be specifics of the geographic community -- mainly its size.

Aggregators cover many large and medium communities. So it might be wise to look for communities below a certain threshold -- not just those underserved by the news media, but underserved by subject-specific Web sites and other aggregators.

My vision of an ideal community site would have:

Info about
  • Calendar
  • Controversies and issues
  • Donations
  • Government and elections
  • History
  • Jobs
  • Maps
  • Newcomer info, help
  • News
  • Leisure
  • Transportation
  • Safety -- crime, emergencies
  • Schools
  • Shopping
  • Statistics
  • Transportation: traffic and mass transit
  • Volunteering
  • Waste pick-up
  • Weather
Features
  • Accountability
  • Breadth
  • Customizability, personalization
  • Depth
  • Distinct identity
  • Dynamic
  • Easy for both audience and site owner(s)
  • Focus would vary from wide to narrow as needed
  • Social networking, interaction ability between and among site and participants
  • Learnability
  • Organization and navigation
  • Search
  • Possibly community ownership
Misc.
  • Media forms -- all?
  • Besides just everyday stuff, this should help individuals, groups, areas solve problems, troubleshoot issues, in various ways.
Maurreen 13:51, 21 July 2007 (EDT)
It would also offer one or more widgets and tool bars that would draw readers to the site from elsewhere. Maurreen 12:19, 22 July 2007 (EDT)
Tangentially, an internal wiki should also be good. It should lead to more internal collaboration. Maurreen 10:07, 24 July 2007 (EDT)
The site might also include revenue sharing for participants. That is, non-employees who write, add photos, etc., might receive small compensation based on the audience drawn to their contributions. Maurreen 09:54, 25 July 2007 (EDT)

Special-subject examples

Here are some examples, all or mainly subject specific, of aspects that I think an ideal community site could or should emulate in some way.

  • Chicago Crime
  • Fix My Street -- In the U.K. Helps residents report, see or discuss local problems, such as graffiti and blocked drains. Problem reports are sent to the local government.
  • Next Bus predicts arrival times.
  • Vote 411 by the Leage of Women Voters, especially the polling-place locator, which give the address and a map.
  • Project Vote Smart -- You can find a wealth of data on state and federal elected officials and some candidates, according to your ZIP code. The Washington Post and USA Today offer similar information for members of Congress. But imagine if the same idea, even on a smaller scale, were applied to local officials.
  • Volunteer Match -- People and organizations can deal with opportunities sorted by ZIP code and interest.
Maurreen 12:52, 22 July 2007 (EDT)

Possible locations

A few options to narrow down possible locations:

  • Near a tech hub
  • Near a major journalism school
  • Near a project champion
  • Demographics, other statistics

Here are some sites I narrowed down from census statistics.

  • They are small or smallish, likely to have little competition.
  • They have a high rate of residences occupied by owner (or similar statistic). This suggests that much of the community is at least middle class and that many residents are rooted (not transient, interested in local issues).
  • But the areas are not near anything else that I know of. So there might be little or no local academic or tech community.
Community, State, Owner Occupied % (or variation)
  • Toms River, NJ, 86.6
  • Livingston County, MI, 86.2
  • Hunterdon County, NJ, 87.6
  • Scott County, MN, 86.9
  • Putnam County, NY, 86.2
  • Livonia, MI, 89.4
  • Hanover County, VA, 87.3
  • Sherburne County, MN, 88.5
  • Bolingbrook, IL, 88.2
  • O'Fallon, MO, 90.1
  • Missouri City, TX, 88.6
Maurreen 14:12, 21 July 2007 (EDT)
Possibly it would be useful to divide the country into a number of areas. Then volunteers could each research an area to evaluate possible locations. Maurreen 10:01, 24 July 2007 (EDT)

Why a college town? The resources a college could provide aren't tethered to that town. Or shouldn't be. The Next Newsroom should serve a geographic community, but not be bound by the resources within that community. It's a global world out there, even in small town USA. -- Tom Warhover

Information or journalism?

Let's please not forget that the reason for the First Amendment was not to make this country free for anyone to print the community's school lunch menus. It was to allow newspapers to do aggressive, independent, unfettered journalism. The phone book or community bulletin board are good for what they do -- provide raw information. Newspapers, as well as television, radio and now Internet newsrooms, provide reporting, explanation, synthesis, analysis, framing, balance, and prioritization of the news. No aggregator has succeeded at replacing a human being at doing any of these things, and I would be suspicious about any "newsroom" that didn't place journalism (professional, amateur, artificial intelligence, whatever) at its core.

-- Michael

Response

1. My "ideal community site" is not intended to replace journalism. It is intended to help and increase the audience, which should increase the revenue, which should help increase and improve the journalism.

2. As far as winnowing ideas down, what changes to traditional news organizations would you suggest?

Maurreen 14:58, 21 July 2007 (EDT)

"Community content wranglers"

To me, "wranglers" has a negative connotatation. A wrangler is "a cowboy who herds livestock" or "a person who wrangles, or argues, especially in a contentious way."

And "content" is just a fancy word for "stuff" or "that which is contained."

Better titles might be "community media coaches" or "community media editors."

Maurreen 18:54, 23 July 2007 (EDT)

Various thoughts on the biz plan

I'll try not to echo some of the previous, well-thought out comments. Know, too, this comes from the POV of someone who best describes his current role as 'corporate weenie' and who hasn't stuck a notebook in his back pocket with a glint in his eye for, well, a long time.

But:

- I absolutely concur with the comments above about digital readers, at-home printers, etc. At our core, journalists (and media companies) are about the information, not the hardware or delivery mechanism. Many of our current problems are caused because at some point we thought we were in the analog version of the hardware business (e.g., printing and distribution). We're not. It's a competency that we needed to do our main job. Technical competency is needed to prepare our content for delivery. We don't need the competency to suss out all the possible delivery methods.

Why am I so passionate about this? Because the hardware business is a very different business, requiring enormous up-front R&D capital, thin profit margins and head-snapping market swings. We want no part of that.

Partner with these firms on an experimental basis? Sure. But we cannot and should not count of the economics of those delivery mechanisms to provide one thin dime of the funding we need for our journalism.

(And, by the by, this is no different than today. Compare the revenue from paid circ to the expenses of paper & ink and distribution costs. If there's a paper profit there, ask your CFO to explain where 'discounting' shows up. More than a few will dive for cover and start mumbling. Circ and distribution is not a profit center.)


- Second point: While it's nice to think that some Daddy Warbucks out there will help provide money (and community foundations *may* be a potential source), I loathe the idea of expanding into other business lines. The WaPo / Kaplan example is lovely, but it occurred because the Graham family used the newspaper's profits to diversify. In other words, they took newspaper money off the table and spread their bets around (which was smart).

A Next Newsroom won't initially have spare capital to buy or build an unrelated business. More to the point, any unrelated business will have its own challenges, its own strategic needs and will clamor to keep its own resources to grow *its* business. It's unrealistic to expect us to launch a transformatively new gathering and distrbution model for our content AND run a successful coffee shop (or <fill in the blank.> ).

- Which, of course, blows a hole in the suggested financials. Here's another one. The CSOP idea is noble, but fraught with problems. (Ask Paul Newman about what happens when you 'give' largely symbolic shares of a company to someone, here.)

  • We want the public to be engaged partners, yes. We want them to feel a SENSE of ownership, yes. But the moment we start throwing around words like 'stock options,' some lawyer is going to say, OK, where's my owner's share of the profits.
  • Related, and on a less-philosophical note: why are only 'active' households eligible to have access to enhanced products? Yes, because we want them to pay us. The rub: Many free competitor's (Melissa's List, legacy.com, etc.) offer those products to our audience at no charge to build audience for advertising. Very, VERY tough to compete with free.
  • Which, IMO, puts the notion of $2.4 million in tiered and upsell revenue at risk. In fact, my initial reaction to that number (having run some local websites) is that it's off by 10x.

- So: There's a feeling among some of us that the upsell revenue is completely out of scale, and that the notion of the 'arm's length' business partnerships is a fantasy. By my bad high-school math, I just whacked about $3.3 million out off the top line of the income statement.

My suggested replacement won't be liked, but it's ads. We've got to find jobs that the readers want done on the content side; on the business side, we have to find jobs that businesses want done, too. It's our classic role as a business: To bring together buyers and sellers. And while the notions of outside help or a huge groundswell of private-party 'upsells' or paid content are lovely, I fear they're also unrealistic. I'd humbly propose that a significant chunk of time (at the JTM session or in folo meetings) be devoted to real discussions with biz-side experts, including intvus with representative local businesses in the chosen market. Candidly, that's exactly the sort of market research a real VC would demand before writing Check One.

- suggestion on the staffing model: Split the database editor and web editor. Very different roles, very different skill sets. Online producers are, by and large, not coders, not DBAs, not even gatherers. They're copy editors who work in a slightly different milleau. The best DB folks (think Adrian Holovaty) are reporters at heart, and geeks at the core ... or vice versa. Finding someone who can be your journo-geek AND your 'web page manager' is a bit like trying to find a product that's a floor wax AND a whipped topping. (All apologies to Aykroyd.)

Above from 1:52 p.m., 26 July 2007

Response

I agree especially about paying more attention to the advertising. Because we don't yet have a chosen market, possibly one or more business representatives could be invited from the D.C. area. Maurreen 14:51, 26 July 2007 (EDT)

"Arms-length" biz partnerships sez "1/3 of its revenue -- or $1.2 million --" .... if your total revenue is $6M, a third ain't 1.2M.Ditto for $2.4M on the first two legs of the revenue plan. Also, is 50% of household participation remotely possible for the CSOPs? Are there examples out there, besides the print newspaper, that even approach those numbers? Finally, in the tiered news approach, is there a premium advertising plan as well? Ie. The demographic buying "extra" news may very well be an attractive demographic for advertisers. Tom Warhover.

Other revenue options

The advertising department could expand:

  • mainly into design and hosting of outside Web pages, but also possibly
  • other digital material
  • stand-along printed products, such as newcomers information, mailings, etc.
Maurreen 20:18, 30 July 2007 (EDT)


Comments on The Next Newsroom

Let me propose that it might be counterproductive to get too bogged down in the details. The Next Newsroom must be largely open-source. It will necessarily be a local/regional phenomenon, and as such it will take a myriad shapes as it adapts to the diverse communities it serves.

Remember, there are about 1,400 newspapers in the U.S. right now. Why would The Next Newsroom be any different? Therefore, what's needed is standards and best practices as much as exacting blueprints.

With that in mind, let me comment on some of the big picture issues, section by section.

PART ONE: Overview

In particular, I agree that the "inventor's dilemma" is at the heart of the issue. News media need to adapt and change, but they can't. To quote Chris Peck's draft:

"Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen would attribute this failure of traditional news organizations to stay atop of their industry to what he calls the innovators dilemma. In essence, Christensen argues that successful, well-managed legacy media businesses simply are incapable of acting upon changes needed to survive the tsunami of new expectations and new technologies now washing over the news business."

I feel that's right on the money. But, it's also too glib. It requires a much deeper analysis.

What's missing from the overview section is an honest acknowledgment of why, exactly, the fortunes of traditional media are in decline.

While it is true that the Internet is a disruptive force when it comes to ad revenue, that alone does not adequately explain the decline.

Indeed, newspaper and TV news audiences have been heading south since, when, the 1970s? Al Gore hadn't even invented the Internet then! The Internet has accelerated that decline, but never forget that its disruption of the ad-revenue model is only part of its effect.

The Internet also provides people with a NEW outlet for news and information that they are NOT getting from traditional outlets.

How, content-wise, are news media failing? Why have their editorial priorities failed to such a gross extent that they are afraid of competing with BLOGGERS?

What coverage do people need from news media that they are not getting?

This is not a technological question. This is one of editorial priorities. Without answering that question, The Next Newsroom will simply repeat the mistakes of the past.

THREE KEY CHALLENGES: Revenue, technology, community

Revenue: For The Next Newsroom to survive, it must shuck the failed and unsustainable Wall Street business model. But we must also recall that news media are industries of scale that employ many people and feed many families. Let me encourage a willingness to consider hybrid, entrepreneurial revenue models that make use of co-op, <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syndicalist">syndicalist</a> and nonprofit methods.

Technology: Honestly, I feel this is a non-issue. Technology is a tool. There is nothing going on that hasn't already been going on for as long as the printing press -- or indeed the quill and scroll -- has existed. The difference today is solely one of magnitude and accessibility. Go with it. Use the tools at hand, adapt according to their diverse capacities.

Community: The Next Newsroom draft proposes that "The core relationship between journalists and communities has evolved. No longer can journalists operate as detached experts who lecture a community of readers." Wellllll ... were they ever, *really*? People have always written letters to the editor, submitted op-eds, lodged complaints, contested findings, filed lawsuits, boycotted outlets, changed the channel, and even started their own news outlets. What's happened is that new media technology has caught up with the perpetual and widespread popular will to make and keep news outlets accountable and responsive. Institutions don't always like being accountable and responsive, but we're in a democracy, so get used to it.

THE FOUR COMMITMENTS

Overall, this is fine, idealistic stuff.

Naturally, I have a gripe, related to hierarchical notions of how a newsroom operates.

The people setting the news agenda should not be publishers or pro-am oversight boards. Instead, I want to see a co-op newsroom in which editors and reporters are peers, and work with each other in advisory capacities to ensure quality control

There's plenty of room for community members and stakeholders to be involved in this process, especially with the "two way street" of emerging Internet media. This will help ensure that The Next Newsroom is responsive, accountable and innovative.

But setting up strict boards of governance and hierarchical leadership structures will compromise independence, squelch innovation, limit inquiry and also potentially bias coverage based on who gets to be on those boards of governance.

THE FIVE DIFFERENCES

Different economic expectations: This is a good, generalized overview that includes a key phrase: "Lower margins." Stay with that.

Different definitions of news and delivery methods: These are too specific and too wishful. What you need is to is open-source this stuff. Create the conditions for innovation, and then let regional Next Newsroom outlets do that innovating without top-down specificity. From that creative ferment, a set of Best Practices will emerge, and will constantly be tested and refined.

Different relationship w/ the community: See my comments above on "The Four Commitments."

CONCLUSION

Beyond all this, I really feel the sole remaining issues are those of finance and costs.

The Next Newsroom must likely be non-commercial. It must not be open to exploitation by profiteers, it must not be vulnerable to buyouts or takeovers. As a nonprofit/co-op/syndicalist operation, it will remain flexible and prone to collaboration, keeping it innovative, relevant, and providing access to resources for growth and adaptation.

Substantial savings will be achieved by developing a co-op/syndicalist newsroom without the problem of overpaid executives and managers, and ambitious shareholders who want to cash in on a public resource that should not be for sale.

Substantial revenue can be generated by hybridizing earned income methods (such as syndication) with traditional nonprofit methods, including foundation grants and major donors, endowment development, and, most importantly, a thriving body of individual donor-subscribers in the public radio tradition.

-- Josh Wilson, http://www.newsdesk.org

Next?

It seems like the main priority to be developed is the ownership plan. What do you think?

Maurreen 05:14, 10 August 2007 (EDT)
Market research? -- Maurreen 12:52, 10 August 2007 (EDT)
Wikipedia article on co-ops

Revenue -- ISP

I like the idea of combining the operation with an ISP. See the page for Wally Bowen, exec. director, Mountain Area Information Network, Asheville, N.C. -- Maurreen 09:10, 15 August 2007 (EDT)

Nonprofit "boot camps"

Sites

  • San Francisco Bay Area, Aug. 18
  • New York City, Sept. 15
  • Chicago, date TBA
  • Los Angeles, date TBA
  • Washington, D.C., date TBA
  • Cost: $50
  • Includes one-on-one help
  • More info
Maurreen 13:44, 15 August 2007 (EDT)