Some of the most interesting discussions and demonstrations at last week's NewsTools2008 conference Silicon Valley centered around making the changing news landscape sustainable. Here are some of the ideas I heard, along with a few of my own:
1) News Consultancies: Leveraging local information channels & relationships to connect average people with local influencers and experts.
-An online/offline service which people pay journalists to help them navigating local political/business channels. i.e, the fastest way to get a building permit approved or knowing which local developer to talk to about a project.
-recommending a trustworthy plumber of mechanic.
This idea has some interesting potential, particularly on creating local communities of trust via social networking, but it also might disadvantage journalists who are no longer viewed as objective reporters but as knowledge brokers for hire.
2) Paid reporter access: News organizations offering a "premier access package" that allow the buyers to participate in a group or one-one-one session with a well known journalist. Certainly there are people (particularly publicists, marketers, and PR firms) who would pay for this kind of access, but it also raises some nasty ethical questions aound journalistic access going to the highest bidder.
3) Micropayments: The notion that people would be willing to pay small amounts (a few cents) for a good piece of journalism. The idea here is that good news takes $ to produce and and that people will actually pay for top quality reporting. My sense is that while it is true in theory, we are already too far down the "information is free" road to make this a viable and sustainable model in and of itself. Perhaps the more important questions are how much are people willing to pay (ifn anything) and what is a simple enough distribution/payment mechanism that could effectively put this model into play?
4) Joint Subscriptions: The notion being that large and small news outlets combine forces and offer a kind of a la carte menu of options that add greater value than the current walled garden model. This could either involve the "packaged subscriptions" where you get 2 or more news offerings at a discounted price, or the recombination of selected large and small news/media into a single offering (i.e., The New York Times international business section +My local news/sports). I sense there might be an appetite for the latter, as online news custom aggregators like DailyMe and Netvibes suggest, but getting various outlets to collaborate and share revenue could be a beastly undertaking.
5) Small is Beautiful. A number of local, community-driven models at the 30,000 residents level seem to be working here. Look at Village Soup and Paulding.com. There are also a number of local community building experiments that go beyond local news aggregation, small business advertising, discussion forums and community portals to offer social networking and community reporting - like www.everyblock.com, www.i-neighbors.org, and SocialChord. One interesting idea that was floated (does anyone have an example?) was the notion of small communities of geography or interest banding together to fund particular reporting and specific stories - a sort of community underwriter news model. I believe David Cohn of NewsTrust is cooking up a marketplace model along these lines.
6) The convergence of journalism and "do gooderism". Some wondered out loud if people would be willing to subscribe to a news outlet if it is taking on a particular community service project like a neighborhood cleanup or supporting a particular local/global cause? This is simply applying corporate social responsibility and the "good by association" model to news. Not sure if anyone has successfully attempted this?
7) Non-financial exchange models: The idea here is news organizations creating a different kind of currency besides $ for their services - like getting free or discounted news access/subscription in exchange for donating time or offering a particular service to the community or the news outlet itself. While I am skeptical that this model would get much traction (not to mention it sounds challenging to organize and denominate) businesses might be willing to sponsor volunteers and pay for their news access as part of a corporate social responsibility campaign. Anyone have any examples of this one?
8)Information and journalism is FREE. Isn't it already if you have a computer and Internet connection? Enough said...
9) Benefactorism: Similar to the notion of community of interest supported news mentioned above, this involves individuals or organizations (outside of the news media, public broadcasting, etc.) funding a particular news item, reporter, or project. Isn't this already happening too?
10) The single journalist (or small group of journalists) as news outlet. The idea here, leveraging the free and easy distribution network of Web 2.0, is to avoid large and bloated news bureaucracies in favor of disaggregated journalists that work and distribute on their own. Isn't this what we call blogging? I guess the real question is whether or not a journalist or small grouping of them can earn a living off of this type of Go-it-your-own-way or Union of hotshot journalists model? Google Adwords won't put your kids through college, so why not try...
11) The eBay model: I heard this idea raised a number of times in varying formats, that you can create a market that matches reporters with distribution outlets. See Reporterist as one example. Again, I wonder if anyone can make a living off of it (assuming you want to)...and how one determines who qualifies as a reporter? Also wonder if this type of model ends up pushing compensation for reporting below "fair market value"?
12) National consortium/union of local news organizations, dailies, etc. : With the relative stability of local dailies and the rise of citizen journalism, some suggested the time is right for a large, representive organization that could provide a better array of support and credentialing for small journalism. Such ideas as pooled advertising distribution (along the lines of Federated Media or Adify) were part of this discussion.
Lots of interesting ideas and models discussed, along with some wonderfully creative approaches. Just wish there were more hard-core entrepreneurs present to take a steely-eyed look at these and other business models. I also missed hearing the voices of youth and the next generation of media creators/consumers. The latter, in particular, need to be a more integral part of the conversation moving forward.