Future models for news

If today’s class focused primarily on the past—especially the sins (original sins?) of newspaper companies in the digital era—then Thursday’s meeting will focus mainly on the future: Where are we going? How are we going to get there?

The key here is to imagine what kind of models for news are most likely to succeed in the future. While there’s some considerable guesswork around that question—as Clay Shirky rightly noted: “We’re collectively living through 1500, when it’s easier to see what’s broken than what will replace it”—we nevertheless need to give it our best effort, to dig around the field of journalism to look for flowering startups and initiatives with promise.

Part 2 of your “consulting project” (which begins this weekend) will take up that very question: Which models for news hold the greatest potential, and why?

There will be no right answer, of course; I’m looking more for your ability to weave together logic, evidence, and sound judgment. To spur you’re thinking in this area, a couple links that I’d like you to tackle for Thursday:

—Clay Shirky’s 30,000-foot view of the need for a revised news model (that is, more than just a reboot of the business model)

—Jeff Jarvis’ proposals for new biz models for news (here and here), although it’s important to point out that both imply significant “cultural” changes to news production as well (additionally, you might want to peruse his New Business Models for News site).

Don’t get too bogged down in the details; just focus on the big-picture takeaways. And I’m giving this to you a little late, so you have until Thursday morning to respond on the blog.

16 Responses to “Future models for news”

  1. 1 billbowmanut September 16, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    The Shirkins reading introduced two key reasons for the change in journalism and media. He said “we’ve never really known precisely the size of the audience for actual civic-minded reporting, or how much direct fees from that audience would amount to. We do know, however, that the rough answers are “Small” and “Not much,” answers that suggest radical transformation, now that the media environment in which those subsidies flourished is gone.” The lack of subsidies was touched on by Seth in class and that lack creates a void for civic “boring” journalism. If the revenue does not come, government could be left unchecked.

    Shirkins also said that “Like driving, journalism is not a profession — no degree or certification is required to practice it, and training often comes after hiring — and it is increasingly being transformed into an activity, open to all, sometimes done well, sometimes badly, but at a volume that simply cannot be supported by a small group of full-time workers.” I never really considered that analogy but it would seem to be apt. Shirky gave a good analysis of where we are and how we got there.

    With regards to the future, Jarvis has some good ideas. Hyperdistribution, specialization and social engagements are some tenets that this new journalism can be built on. He also made a good point, saying “This ain’t about getting people to come to your home pages anymore.” It is about your content going out to other places -into facebook and rss streams and above the noise of the web.

    In Jarvis’s other article, he talks about an ecosystem approach to news and journalism. This combined with his article give a more hopeful view of the future that I think is plausible and more importantly, profitable. Having advertising for hyper local activities alongside national projects creates streams of revenue to create quality work and possible alleviate the problem of subsidizing civic minded journalism.

  2. 2 James September 16, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    Both Shirky and Jarvis make very interesting comments about the future of newspaper journalism. What I took most from the reading were Shirky’s comments on vanishing subsidies due to the “unpackaging” of news, and Jarvis’s comments on advertising through the use of embedded widgets.
    It is strange, I have noticed how news stories are being torn away from newspaper sites but I have never really related that to the breaking up of the “order” of a physical newspaper. The Shirky reading made me more aware of the fact that newspapers are being distributed as readers see fit. It really is kind of like I-tunes breaking apart the album and selling individual songs. When I look at this model it seems to me that if large newspapers want to continue to do highly investigative reporting on their own, then they may have to charge more for stories that cost more to produce. However, I also tend to look at the low cost of digging into stories, and wonder if even thorough investigative reporting is becoming cheaper to produce. This new cheap investigative reporting is thanks to sites like opensecrets.org and other similar watchdog websites.
    Jarvis’ comments about embedding widgets were also thought provoking. There are many sites out there now that allow people to grab content and place it on blogs via widgets. A widget is a small application that displays information, just like the one Jarvis put in his post. Widgets can be beneficial to companies because it allows the company to advertise each time the widget is used. This is a great way for companies to further ad sales and also advertise their own company.
    So to sum it up, a model needs to be put in place to package ads along with individual stories when they are distributed through the web, and highly investigated news may need to be charged for at a higher than usual price.

  3. 3 Cassandra H September 16, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    Jeff Jarvis’s “Reverse-syndication” model I feel fits the new waves of participation journalism since the Internet has started to take over. I highly believe that a big reason newspapers are in the situation that are in now is because of the huge ego that they have had regarding their news. When the Internet came, they only produced shovelware and never put full effort until they realized they actually had competition for the first time.

    For the “reverse-syndication model” holds that the new news organization would create “highly targeted content that can be distributed on the sites of other members of the network.”

    This model incorporates direct participation from the public, allowing distribution to be easier among citizens as well as bloggers in the area. I like that this model also includes “the increase in the leverage of the professionals working along the amateurs.”

    As Jarvis says, “large players and small will find ways to mutually create and share in more value.” In the past, when the Internet came on the radar for news organizations, they were much more concerned with time stamps and making sure that they would get the news first. With the Internet, it is that much more necessary for collaboration and that is what this model provides.

  4. 4 Lonny.A September 16, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    I don’t agree with Shirky saying that the change we’re living through is an upheaval. Well, it might be to the older generation, but I think this is an upgrade. Now, people have access to news where ever they go whether it be through newspapers, radios, laptops or phones.

    In Cato Unbound, the question about the actual size of the audience who reads the newspapers for its content rather than the coupons sports fans was something that had never crossed my mind. I had assumed that the readership were people interested in the whole newspaper.

    Jarvis’s idea of “the embeddable paper” is fantastic. I think it would be one of the best ways to make money off of advertisers. Television has been extremely successful with it (ABC, NBC) along with video platforms like Veoh. Because more people were watching tv online, companies were able to find a way to provide their viewers with that along with making tons of money off of it. Unfortunately that also led to the Writer’s Strike.

    I think there will always be a market demand for journalism. More so in the towns than metro cities. It’s just hard for me to believe that bloggers could take over newspapers. I’ve always seen people go to news sites and papers for “accurate news”, not blogs. Journalists are trained how to write, what to report, to attribute, while to me, bloggers and citizen journalists are people who are voicing their (sometimes biased) opinions on a public written platform.

  5. 5 austintries5 September 16, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Whether or not the print newspapers fade as quickly as VCRs did, the reoccurring theme in all three of these articles is how to deal with an audience. How to attract a population of readers that will continue to return everyday like subscribers once did to morning papers. If it means blogging, hyperdistribution or specialization, they all deal with getting hits so advertisers can continue to fund these projects and they all deal with making news more accessible as opposed to cut off from those who do not pay.

    Shirky makes an interesting point when he says that “journalism is seeping into the population at large,” by comparing it to driving. Like driving, journalism is not a defined profession anymore and while part of me is pissed because I have wasted the last three years of my life, the other part agrees and sees that the days of going to an office with a news team are over. We can start reporting right now and post it to our own personal blog and begin attracting the public now.

    The biggest solution I see to the current crisis is specialization because it correlates perfectly with what Twitter, Facebook and RSS do already for their audience. It is a way to grow like the writer says and it seems to be the logical way of linking the Internet to journalism and to print. Producing a newspaper that covers everything and anything is like trying to package the Internet to one platform for readers. If papers can pick a topic they are good and qualified to cover, readers will go to it because of the reputation and because they know that the journalists spend time on this subject. The effects of specialization is a community of readers that all visit this site or buy this paper for the sole purpose of reading sports or technology or politics. The publication is transparent to the viewers and does not try to be experts on topics they know little about or lack resources to cover fairly.

    I think the biggest indication of news is the rise in citizen journalism, blogging and social networking where people want to have a two way street for communication. In my opinion, specialization is crucial to newspapers’ survival.

  6. 6 Katherine Robinson September 16, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    To save the future of journalism, there are a couple of things that need to be done to receive the best results. I really enjoyed reading Clay Shirky’s piece on ‘Not an Upgrade-An Upheaval.’ I agree with him we says the internet is a non-linear way to access news. Shirky says, “… the act of forming a public has become something the public is increasingly doing for itself, rather than needing to wait for a publication (not the root) to do it for them. “ So how can we as journalists succeed when the people have instant access to multimedia? In my opinion, I’m not sure which model would hold the greatest potential. The ones from the few readings seem a little too complex or unrealistic. The Embedded Paper Model might be successful in a few years, but I’m still a little confused on how it might work. Every site, blog, or pretty much anything on the internet has some form of advertising on the sides. My only concern with the Embedded Paper model is will all the embedding between computers increase the likely hood of viruses? If he is encouraging people to have players embed links for every site, this might cause more harm to the technological word. I really don’t see how this model could work without testing.
    I do agree with Jarvis on having more hyperlocal bloggers. I never realized how much revenue bloggers received from advertisements. If papers die off the next best thing to do is just find a local blog you’re interested in following. Jarvis makes a good point when he says bloggers are reaching better numbers than dying papers.

  7. 7 Samantha Borger September 16, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    The recurring theme of these articles seemed to be the importance of hyperdistribution and specialization as the key to the future of news as we know it.
    Huge newspapers like New York Times, LA Times, Wall Street Journal are not facing the extreme problems that larger metro dailies are, so they can keep covering a wide variety of topics and keep their audience. However, the metro dailies are losing more and more money and having to make more and more cutbacks, forcing them to spread themselves too thin when it comes to coverage. By focusing on what they do best, they will find an audience that comes to them when they need to know about that subject. This could even mean gaining readers outside their local area. As Jeff Jarvis says in his buzzmachine blog, this idea seems like it limits the potential for an audience and productivity of creating journalism, when it actually “becomes a way to grow.”
    Jarvis also talks about the success of local bloggers today in “Let’s Build an Ecosystem Around Hyperlocal Bloggers.” He proves that these writers are extremely profitable and brings up the idea of professional journalists partnering with them to be even more productive. Instead of thinking of blogs as enemies, news organizations should think of them as allies and business partners. They can learn a lot about what the average person wants to read and how they gravitate to what content on the Internet.

  8. 8 msherfield September 16, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    After a month of hearing about the oncoming demise of newspapers and the professional news industry, hearing something about solutions, of sorts, is a nice change. As both Shirky and Jarvis freely admit, no one really knows what the future of journalism holds. The old system is fractured and being pulled apart. As such, the answer might be to go ride the wave of the public’s demands and give them what they want: local and specialized, for free. Instead, newspapers are still trying to hide behind their wall and driving people away. It’s no longer about home pages and packages, instead, it’s about reaching as many people as possible.
    That will involve the creating of networks and inclusion of local bloggers into the legitimate news worlds. As we’ve discussed in class and is mentioned in the readings, there needs to be more connection between the audience and the news and bloggers are the best way to begging to bridge that gap, giving people a chance to contribute their own content while also creating a network of information and links instead of the old one-way communication system.
    I think we were probably all surprised to read about the financial success of the biggest local bloggers. That’s obviously encouraging in that it shows that there is a market for journalism, even if it isn’t in the traditional format. As Jarvis points out, the viability of these new mediums will be given their first real chance to shine when a major city loses its paper, which will be very interesting.

  9. 9 jwhitcomb September 16, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    On the Internet, where news readers are able to access any news they want and sort through the articles that fail to interest them, it makes sense that journalism will be forced to specalize their news. I though Jeff Jarvis made a very interesting point when he noted in “Hyperdistribution” that, “Specialization sounds like a way to decrease, not increase audience but with the efficiencies specialization enables, many more publics can be served more deeply and each is bound to be more engaged.”

    Each of the models he proposed called for engaging an audience and I see how, by using aspects of all his suggestions, news distribution can succeed. The most interesting proposal he made I thought was the embedded paper. I have not read anything like that in any of the articles I’ve seen and the idea makes so much sense.

    I think there is also a huge future in journalism for bloggers. Like everyone else, I was surprised to see the revenue bloggers are bringing in with advertising. Since newspapers use advertising as their key form of revenue, I think this is a huge indication to how successful the online world can still be for them.

  10. 10 timgarlitz September 16, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    One area that got my attention was Shirky’s comment, “there’s always a sizable portion of teh crazy in any raw feed.” I think that the circumstances in China and Iran are both powerful examples of how the free flow of information can be both a great thing to give power to the public, but it can also be a very dangerous thing when it is misused. His proposal for a subsidy business model that has a “small number of professionals vet, edit, and shape that raw material,” is a crucial component to getting accurate and helpful information. In nations where censorship is the norm, the internet has provided great opportunities for the citizenry to stand up and let the outside world hear its voice. Unfortunately, there is also a great potential that such a free flow of raw, unchecked information could easily be abused by anyone. If the public of that country or a foreign country were unknowingly being fed false information, a whole host of problems could occur. A diverse group of experienced and reliable journalists is needed to separate the “wheat from the chaff.”

    I also think that Jarvis’ model for hyperlocal bloggers could be the new model that is the most effective. Localizing a small staff of bloggers that are each proficient in a particular area could be a great way to attract and keep a loyal audience (or public) of readers. By writing for a niche market, a blogger can not only establish a dialogue with his own particular audience, but he could also become a gateway for readers to branch out and explore other areas in the local news department. This may take some time, but newspapers will need to incorporate this style or one similar to it if they want to stay a viable commodity.

  11. 11 brandonfried September 16, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    I was honestly surprised at how much I really understood this idea of ‘hyperlocal journalism’. The word has been tossed around for the past few weeks in class and I didn’t give it much though until now.

    This is risky, but hear me out and forgive me for reaching across the aisle.

    As I was reading about the ‘publics’ and ‘communities’, etc. that Jarvis and Shirky reference I couldn’t help but be reminded of the classes I’ve taken in the PR program here. I know, I know – journalism and PR are completely different but a lot of what Shirky was explaining aligns with the new ways professional communicators are beginning to reach out to their target communities. I suppose the difference between PR pros and local journalists is of course the intent, but Shirky still suggests the idea of carefully identifying an appropriate audience and serving content relevant to and dictated by the audience. I will disagree with Jarvis though. He argues that “news organizations should be trying to reach more people and engage with them more deeply. They should seek hyperdistribution.” Ultimately, this may prove more profitable but I believe that a more defined community should be the goal of a news organization, especially when experimenting with fledgling audiences.

    I think the focus on defined communities and appropriate content paired with accessible social engagement (as explained by Jarvis) will end up being the most critical components of future news organizations.

  12. 12 Leigh. September 16, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    Shirky’s dialogue seems to be built on collaboration between the “professional” and “amateur” journalist — the idea that, despite what anyone really *wants* to do, everyone must accept that using each others resources is really the best option for all-around coverage of issues. And really, it makes perfect sense to collaborate. I think, in this case, one of the biggest issues stopping journalists from reaching out to citizens is (and we touched on this in class Tuesday) the issue of ego. Why rely on someone else to do your job?

    In Jarvis’ piece in “The Guardian,” he expands on this concept Shirky describes — in essence, suggesting that both traditional newsrooms as well as new media citizen journalists have roles in the journalism spectrum as they each fall into their own respective niches in which they would be successful. Again, I think this was something that was suggested during class, that the most probable fate for the newspaper is that many city papers would die out, leaving only a couple major publications and many small, local publications to cover the smaller stories that wouldn’t otherwise be covered by bloggers or other citizen journalists.

  13. 13 Tiffany Tso September 17, 2009 at 12:30 am

    So, I don’t know if I agree with / like the statement Shirky made about how journalism is or will no longer be a profession, but just something that everybody can do, and I don’t think that this is just a bias due to the fact that I aspire to be a professional journalist. I could argue against his (particular) comparison of professional drivers vs. professional journalists for a spell, but I have a feeling that is not the focus of this section.

    Now we must talk about potential news organization business models. I enjoyed reading the Jarvis piece in The Guardian. He enlightened me with some fun facts about blogger revenues. I am getting ideas. Anyway, it is hard to say whether or not new journalism should be built around these bloggers, but the idea is interesting none-the-less.

    The ideas of embedded articles and what Shirky said about single hit articles (as in nobody goes to the homepage of a paper) lends some ideas for a possible business model to be built around that. As Prof. Lewis had mentioned in class, advertising is the key component to the economics of journalism. Everybody already knows that Google and other Web sites are constantly putting relevant advertising on relevant articles, but can there be another system? This one may seem exploitative, or like paid product placement, but it would probably work — selling ad-space per article depending on how the advertising business relates to the article or feels about the article. I don’t know if that made sense or I just sounded like an imbecile, but it was just something I kept thinking about during the readings, so I thought I would bring it up via comment.

    That’s all.

  14. 14 Adam Aldrete September 17, 2009 at 2:57 am

    As we look to the future of journalism we must recall that newspapers will not be entirely dead anytime soon. However, as Clay Shirky points out, readers are better able to select their own news while filtering out parts of the news that come packaged in a single paper.
    This individualistic mindset adopted by news consumers is what will allow local newspapers to thrive and force large dailies into tailoring their product to fit the individual needs of their readership.
    All of this being said, we have no silver bullet moving forward. Like a fisherman, we must cast several lines into the world using both print and online resources in order to allow the best ideas to flourish and act as a lighthouse of other journalists to follow.

  15. 15 Grant September 17, 2009 at 5:43 am

    Mark Cuban has an interesting idea for the future of newspapers.

    Here’s the link to is blog: http://blogmaverick.com/2009/04/26/1269/

    I doubt it will work, but it makes as much sense as anything else, other than just accepting the fact that people will never again pay for content and then diverting attention to what people will pay for.

    Cuban is suggesting that people are not buying newspapers because of the difficulty and hassle of payments and renewing subscriptions. If more newspapers would adopt a payment system similar to Amazon where people’s credit cards are kept on file and automatically renewed then people would be more willing to pay, or more reluctant to cancel a subscription. Cuban also proposes to start generating more and more online content, since it is very cheap to make and host, and have specials directed only to those who have credit cards on file. For example, a news site could host a free mp3 download of the day for credit card subscribers, or exclusive audio of speeches and special events only accessible by those with credit card accounts. As someone who doesn’t like anyone to ever have any of my credit information I doubt I would utilize this very much, but I do see it’s appeal for others and I do understand the frustration of receiving a letter every week asking if I would like to renew my subscription and how much I would like to tip my paper boy.

    All in all I think free news is a good thing and the only people who would like you to believe there is a crisis are those losing money, not those who value news. Call me self centered, but I really don’t care if they lose some money, or all of their money. I will still get my news for free and know (or not know) the happenings of the world just as thoroughly as I did before. The service of those in the newspaper is only as valuable as it’s alternative. In the past there was no alternative, now the alternative is free news or paid news. In the past people paid for subscriptions and papers sold ads so that they could stay in business and report the news. Well now people don’t have to worry about that because the bottom line for the news industry is essentially zero. If we take a look at news from the perspective of someone who simply wants a better society, then free news is the better solution. It’s not some commodity that only those privileged enough to pay for it should receive, it is an important part of our lives that everyone needs. Well now everyone can get it for free, much more timely, and because most of our society now plays the role of watchdog, much more accurately. The only change is that people are not getting paid salaries to produce trite and banal content because someone else will do it for free. There is no need to get a reporters eye witness perspective on breaking news because people will now tell the world themselves through things like Twitter.

  16. 16 Erin Harris September 17, 2009 at 6:36 am

    As Howard Owens points out, newspapers must distinguish the online product from the print. When someone reads a newspaper, his/her experience is vastly different from reading news online. One key difference between the two experiences is that less than half of readers who read a news article online ever see the original homepage. Essentially, the organization and structure of the online product has become unbundled.

    So newspapers need to think of articles as individual entities and build a presence online. They can do this by “beefing up” the back end of their sites and pages so that their articles show up at the top of searches. They should also make a goal of being the news organization with the most frequently and consistently linked-to articles. Yes, this means using bloggers to their advantage. Some bloggers have an incredible following and are bringing in up to $200,000 a year in advertising. People trust these sites. If a blogger they trust posts a link, most likely that reader will click away.

    The tricky part is this is not only a decision news organizations need to make. As Jeff Jarvis says, “journalists, business people, advertisers, technologists and citizens invest in the future instead of merely trying to protect their past.” The sooner everyone starts, the more time they have to learn how to turn a hefty profit.

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September 2009

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