Dorian Benkoil senior consultant at Teeming Media. An award-winning journalist and editor, he was a foreign correspondent for AP and Newsweek, and international and managing editor for ABCNews.com. At ABC News he moved to the business side, handling sales integration and business development, before joining Fairchild Publications as General Manager for their Internet division, becoming editorial director for mediabistro.com, then a consultant for Teeming Media in New York. He graduates this year with an MBA from Baruch's Zicklin school of business. Learn more about him at Benkoil.com or his blog - MediaFlect.com.
Robert Cauthorn is a journalist, former vice president of digital
media at the San Francisco Chronicle, and was the third recipient of
the Newspaper Association of America's prestigious Digital Pioneer
Award. He launched one of the first five newspapers web sites in the
world and is generally considered to have delivered the first
profitable newspaper web site in 1995. Cauthorn has been in the middle
of the transition from old media to new and is recognized as
frank-talking critic when he believes newspapers stray for their
mission. In mid-2004 he became the president of CityTools, LLC a new
media startup based in San Francisco.
Ben Compaine has divided his career between the academic world and private business. He was a journalist when manual typewriters were considered state of the art, but also led the conversion of his college newspaper to cold type. He has started and managed weekly newspapers. His dissertation at Temple University in 1977 was about the changing technologies that were going to unsettle the landscape of the staid and low profit newspaper industry. Since then he has focused his research and consulting on examining the forces and trends at work in the information industries. Among his most well-known works (and the name of his blog) is "Who Owns the Media?".
Vin Crosbie has been called "the Practical Futurist" by Folio, the trade journal of the American magazine industry. Editor & Publisher magazine, the trade journal of the American newspaper industry, devoted the Overview chapter of executive research report Digital Delivery of News: A How-to Guide for Publishers to his work. His speech to the National Association of Broadcasters annual conference was one of 24 orations selected by a team of speech professors for publication in the reference book Representative American Speeches 2004-2005. He has keynoted the Seybold Publishing Strategies conference in 2000; co-chaired and co-moderated last year's annual Beyond the Printed Word the digital publishing conference in Vienna; and regularly speaks at most major online news media conferences. He is currently in residence as adjunct professor of visual and interactive communications and senior consultant on executive education in new media at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and meanwhile is managing partner of the media consulting firm of Digital Deliverance LLC in Greenwich, Connecticut.
About this blog
Two forces have shattered the news media. Technology is the first. Although media technology is undergoing its greatest change since the day in 1440 when Johannes Gutenberg first inked type, for more than ten years now the news industry has mistaken new technologies merely as electronic ways to distribute otherwise printed or analog products. Estrangement is the second. The news media has lost touch with people's needs and interests during the past 30 years, as demonstrated by rapidly declining readerships of newspapers and audiences of broadcast news. How we rebuild news media appropriate to the 21st Century from the growing rubble of this industry is the subject of this group weblog.
Steve Outing today pointed me to Journalism Online, a new attempt to charge for journalistic content. The press release makes it seem they’ll be offering readers a way to pay one price and pick from among paid content they want, and publishers a chance to make their efforts available at a price point they choose. Users will be able to pick stories a la carte, or via subscription. The release frequently mentions newspapers, but also says there are talks with magazines.
The release says ads, alone, can’t and never have paid for quality journalism. Maybe not. And we’ll find out if J.O. is right that Americans will pay for journalism because they understand it needs to be supported. I’m not so sure. They will pay for convenience, ease of use, utility and access they wouldn’t otherwise have.
What will make this work, I think, is from the reader side:
if they can get what they want with ease
if the price point is low enough that convenience outweighs the desire to go hunting for the info elsewhere (think iTunes)
If there are enough publications available
if the content is not commoditized or the kinds of stuff available so many other places that it’s easy to find. (I doubt breaking news or big stories available all over the place will make much money.)
... and for publishers:
the ability to make additional incremental revenue from content they couldn’t get on their own.
strong Incentives to cooperate in the project rather than go it alone, as they’re so used to doing
ease of installation and use
flexible pricing -- Journalism Online is promising to let publishers charge their own prices and adjust them.
data, which J.O. is also promising, to allow quick changes in pricing, story mix, etc. (“Journalism Online will provide reports to member publishers on which strategies and tactics are achieving the best results in building circulation revenue while maintaining the traffic necessary to support advertising revenue.”)
assurance their content won’t be pilfered, will be in an environment they can trust in every sense
enough revenue and revenue share that they’ll feel it’s a fair shake, that J.O. isn’t taking too much of a cut.
The below is from Steve Outing, who posits that allowing only paid subscribers to participate fully in a community’s news site can be a component of a valid business model. He may be right. But what about the competing issue of blocking those who haven’t paid from commenting and participating. Do we create a separate class of reader/citizen? Does the paper have an obligation along these lines? Not taking a position. Just asking the question.
A paid subscription also will allow you to interact with the site and its staff, and participate in discussions, daily chats and comment threads; free readers won’t have their voices heard. (I have to say, this is not a bad idea. Many popular newspaper Web sites have comment threads that are out of control and populated largely, it sometimes seems, by idiots who drown out the sane and smart voices. Charging to be part of the conversation is one way to create more rational, intelligent and useful discussions — albeit smaller — between journalists and readers, and readers and other readers.)
Arianna Huffington, along with NYU professor Jay Rosen and others, are causing a buzz today with their announcement of a new HuffFund to support investigative journalism with $1.75 million in contributions from The Huffington Post (HuffPo) and multi-billion-wielding The Atlantic Philanthropies. “This nonprofit Fund will produce a wide-range of investigative journalism created by both staff reporters and freelance writers,” HuffPo chief Arianna Huffington writes. She writes, further, that this is an attempt to preserve investigative journalism and the crucial role it plays in democracy “during this transitional period for the media.”
It’s good she puts it that way - that the support is during a transitional period. It’s easy to fear that going hand-out to foundations becomes the way those working in the field come to think of as the natural way of things. Others have laid out some of the dangers: Foundations want control; they have specific missions that may be in conflict with the purity of purpose required of investigative journalism; they can be quasi-governmental, slow-moving and bureaucratic. Yet, one could raise equally challenging views of investigative journalism that’s sponsored by commercial interests. It’s hard to find any really good investigative pieces about real estate in any newspaper, reliant as they are on real estate advertising. It’s easy to find reporters and editors who will tell of pieces being tempered for reasons they believe have to do with the need to not offend a sponsor (a.k.a. funder). The ability to continue great journalistic work has relied largely on the strength of character of those doing that work, and their bosses -- anyone from executives of TV networks to the families that run great newspapers. Today, perhaps, that will include the Arianna Huffingtons, Atlantic Philanthropies and Knight Foundations of the world. (An aside: I haven’t seen much discussion of the Medicis and other benefactors who have facilitated creation of some of the great art of our civilizations. Perhaps there’s an analogy there.)
Within the foundation-supported model, the most powerful news organizations will be one(s) that move toward self-sustainability. Mixed revenue models-- without the need to call on the generosity of benefactors -- are surely the best for a number of reasons I won’t get into deeply here, but include everything from creating offsetting revenue streams that bring in different types of cash flows (advertising, subscription, products, events, etc.) to not relying on any one benefactor, so that even if one or the other revenue stream dries up or drops out the core project(s) can continue. Jeff Jarvis writes that what can make this work is the one-percent rule that works in a “gift economy”: If one percent of consumers will support a project, the project can be sustained, as for NPR and Wikipedia. If the one-percent can, ultimately, sustain the journalism without foundation input or control, great. But it doesn’t have to be a gift economy. I’d argue that the one-percent rule is analogous to marketing -- one percent or fewer of people who see a marketing message will take action that justifies the marketing spend. And in this instance the product, itself, is its own marketing message. There is not a need for a separate marketing budget or PR spend (see Fred Wilson's recent Tweet on Twitter and Etsy getting on CBS TV without PR agencies).
And just as the need for short-term profit should not drive a company to destroy its core businesses, the need for ad revenue should not allow a journalistic enterprise to gut its ventures. The effects of that kind of thinking and acting is evident today. We’ve seen weather and sports and tech news blown out while simple coverage of community school boards and local politicians languishes.
The structure of newspapers has not been born of editorial need or service to the communities that consume them but rather commercial convenience. While separate sections for Local, National, International and Opinion may be driven by news decision and interest, one could equally imagine a newspaper where clearly delineated opinion about any given topic appears next to the relevant news story (much as is done with links and feeds digitally) or in which car news and financial news appears on the same page, rather than in separate ‘auto” and “personal finance” sections that serve advertisers of those types of content. Sections have been created and blossomed in those way to support advertisers in each of those verticals. In re-imagining the news business, let’s also free our thinking, as Rosen has done, from the need to have news be created solely by “professionals,” and also from the need to structure news sections and pages according to preconceived notions of what a reader is interested in.
In a “search economy,” people will find and assemble what they want on their Facebook and DailyMe and Netvibes and Instapaper and whatever other pages according to their interests. Those interests create a powerful profile, and “opt-ins” that give clues as to what those folks might be willing to support through contributions, purchases, ad viewing and more. That can then support the journalism they want and need, and, for those willing to tap it while serving them, make the news self-sustaining.