New blog

I've retired this blog for now and moved the discussion to a new site: NewsFuturist. It was time for a dedicated domain name and a niche focus on the future of journalism topics. Please join me there and subscribe if you're interested.


A 'Source of Inspiration' for news reformers

In their weekly "Rebooting the News" podcast, NYU's Jay Rosen and the Internet's Dave Winer have started a tradition of citing a "source of inspiration" each week. It is one person or idea that brings much needed clarity and optimism amid the sea of uncertainty about the future of news.

I have one of my own to share. This comes from a recently posted talk from TED (a group I've previously touted). In it Bennington College President Liz Coleman calls for professors and scientists to break out of their narrow, isolated disciplines and work together in political and social activism. In noting the difficulty of the task, she closes with a call I find rings true also for those of us struggling with finding the sustainable future of news.

She says:
"If the question of where to start seems overwhelming, you are at the beginning, not the end of this adventure. Being overwhelmed is the first step if you are serious about trying to get at things that really matter on a scale that makes a difference. So what do you do when you feel overwhelmed? Well, you have two things. You have a mind, and you have other people. Start with those, and change the world."
And that, to me, is about right. As huge as the idea of reinventing an entire societal system of journalism sounds, it really just starts with applying your own mind honestly, critically, openly (pushing past your own biases and traditional assumptions) -- and joining with others who do the same to collaborate and develop solutions.


Paid Content: An Intellectually Bankrupt Model

The revived attempts to charge for access to news content online are moves of desperation, not reasoned strategy. Just listen to the explanations from two industry executives leading the charge.

News Corp. owner Rupert Murdoch says “It is clear to many newspapers that the current model is malfunctioning.”

And as MediaNews Group Inc. CEO William Dean Singleton announced last week that his 54 daily newspapers would begin charging for online content, he wrote: “We cannot continue to give all of our content away for free.”

What you hear from these men are reasons they don't like the free-with-advertising model, or reasons they think people SHOULD have to pay for their product. You hear frustration, and you hear Ego. You don't hear a reason that charging for content will work.

I hope Dean Singleton actually reads news coverage about his paid-content move. If he reads the San Francisco Chronicle's story, he'll see two people offering wise words that he should consider. The first is from Vivian Schiller, president and chief executive of National Public Radio who ran the TimesSelect paid content experiment for NYTimes.com:
"What scares me about serious news organizations putting up pay walls is that not only are they going to kill their relevance by locking the content out of the national dialogue, but also the advertisers will flee."
The second point has to do with the REALITY of how people consume news and whether they WOULD pay for it, beyond Singleton's opinion that they should. Paul Grabowicz, an associate dean and director of the new media program at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism:

"People were abandoning what we were doing long before the Internet came along. Is there any business model that is going to support journalism at the level of say a big metropolitan paper that operates as essentially a monopoly? No, those days are gone."

What might work, he said, are models based on coverage of "very local content, based in neighborhoods, towns and cities, content or news organized around different topics."

Now that is some reporting that Singleton should be willing to pay for, and should pay attention to.


New Kindle won't save newspapers

There is lots of chatter flying around Twitter this morning about the new big-screen Kindle to be announced in May. Much of it is driven by this report in the New York Times about how some daily papers are pinning hopes to this.

It is false and potentially harmful hope, in that it may again give newspaper folks a sense of comfort that stifles will for the REAL INNOVATIONS that are needed.

Electronic display of the same old newspaper page is not going to be anyone's savior. It's still the same content in the same broadsheet-page package with the same old limitations and entirely the same faltering business model underlying it.

Anyone who won't pick up a printed newspaper for 50 cents is not going to buy a $500-$600 (estimated) big-screen kindle so they can read the newspaper. This will be a bridge technology adopted by some upper-middle-class baby boomers who already read the print newspaper and can afford a new toy. But the Kindle-like devices will not reach any of the markets that newspapers are losing to other online competitors.

As for the business model, it is not improved. Newspapers would still be planning to display ads on their Kindle pages from department stores (another dying business), and realtors and car dealers (who have nothing to advertise right now).

Newspapers need entirely new ways of covering communities, especially by getting the public involved and becoming the key online gathering spot for their local communities. Doing the same old thing on electronic paper won't cut it.


When newspapers (should have) invented Twitter

A story I wish were true:

In early 2006, a committee of reporters, editors and web specialists at a
major U.S. newspaper chain gathered in room for a week to brainstorm ways to
adapt the new social media trends to the future of their news business.

After much discussion about possible changes to their own sites and
portfolio of web content, they arrived at the much bigger idea: Create something
not just on their sites. Something suited for promoting and spreading news, but
usable for all types of communication and sharing. Create a platform that does
not require news sharing, but naturally encourages it by making it easy and
useful. Let anyone join and share and choose who else they want to hear

They did it. And the number of users and visits grew 1000% a year. It
unleashed an audience and appetite for the newspapers' chief commodity -- what's
happening now and why. It even created unexpected benefits of being able to
monitor the users' ongoing conversation trends and receive news leads.

Suddenly Google and venture capital firms were interested in pumping
millions of dollars into expanding the service -- a growth spot that helped the
company weather a brutal recession that would strike the industry hard in late

Newspapers should have invented Twitter. But they didn't (for familiar reasons -- "Mad-Cash Cow Disease" being a main one. The print game was so good for so long that it sapped any "fierce urgency of now" to steer yesterday's 25% profit margins into tomorrow's innovations.)

Instead, three guys named Biz Stone (@Biz), Jack Dorsey (@Jack) and Evan Williams (@Ev) were the ones in 2006 who devised a system built on sharing short bursts of information. They called it Twitter. (A few years before, @Ev created this system I'm blogging on)

Though they missed the chance to create and own it, newspapers still can seize the chance to use this information-sharing medium to share their information in new ways. In fact, they must. Specific Twitter strategies will be topics for another day.