Business plan. Business model. Business plan. Business model. Jeez Louise it seems that’s all you hear about these days. To survive in Webworld, it’s going to take a lot more than developing a new business plan. To adapt to Webworld, the entire approach to news has to change. No business model will help. If you start a Web site, and it looks and functions just like the site that traditional news organizations are doing, it won’t survive.
Lots of folks blame the Internet for screwing up the newspaper business plan. But even without the Internet, newspapers would be in trouble. The dirty secret is that newspapers were losing readers LLOOONNNNGGGGG before the Internet started seeping into our lives. [Weekday newspaper readers had already dropped, from 77.6 percent of the U.S. population in 1970 to 58.6 in 1998]. As the shift to national ads, national reporting, the emphasis on prizes, and corporatizing — being beholden to shareholders — trumped listening and staying focused on serving their communities, journalists, especially in metro areas, had begun losing touch with their communities, which included their local advertisers.
No matter now. Onward.
Webworld demands context. So, Nujurno is an inch wide and a mile deep. (Oldjurno is a mile wide and an inch deep.) It’s not just about the stand-alone story anymore. It’s about never-ending stories in context, embedded in a matrix of really useful information (solution-oriented).
Why am I prattling on about this? Because in Webworld, the news structure — what’s covered and how news is presented — is completely different, which makes how reporters do their jobs very different, too. By focusing on that aspect first, we will figure out how to support and sustain it.
In Michael Hirschorn’s very interesting column about the transition facing the New York Times in the Jan-Feb 2009 Atlantic, there was this:
Like neighboring hospitals coordinating their purchases of expensive MRI equipment, journalistic outlets will discover that the Web allows (okay, forces) them to concentrate on developing expertise in a narrower set of issues and interests, while helping journalists from other places and publications find new audiences.
That’s a very good observation, and it’s been happening outside traditional news organizations for the last several years, as other folks (some abandoning the ranks of traditional journalism to do so) grokked the nature of the Web very quickly and created Web-based social/news/information networks. These include Marketwatch, MaxPreps, and Theknot.com. [Hirschorn may not be on target with some of his financial assessment, according to Rick Edmonds at Poynter, but that’s a separate issue.]
At the November 2008 New Business Models for News Summit at CUNY, many good ideas emerged. But they stopped short of asking the question: Does this approach fit with the Web’s nature, with what the Web demands journalism to be? In a post after the event, Jeff Jarvis discussed what the various groups came up with. The group that was reorganizing the newsroom did this:
They calculated the likely revenue Philadelphia could support online and then figured out what they could afford in staffing. Instead of the 200-300-person newsroom that has existed in print, they decided they could afford 35 and they broke that down to include a new job description: “community managers who do outreach, mediation, social media evangelism.” They settled on three of those plus 20 content creators, two programmers, three designers, five producers (I think they were a bit heavy on those two), and — get this — only three editors.
Yes, jurnos are community managers. That’s not a bad job description. But…then what?
The next parts of the process, Jeff went on to explain, were to match the approach above with the groups that were figuring out how to disaggregate the newsroom into news service, sales, distribution, etc.; finding public support; and developing a convoluted advertising revenue mechanism. And then, the next step is to find some smart biz-school students, talk about it some more and come up with a…business plan.
Whoa. Back to the first group. Their next question should have been: With these 35 people, what communities can we serve well? Are they geographic communities within Philadelphia? Or are they topic-based communities, such as health? And how do we serve them? What does serving well mean in Webworld?
At the minimum, it means blogging the beat (this replaces the stand-alone story) to provide continual updates about issues. (Jurno is immediate AND continuous.)
It means engaging and incorporating the community in the conversation about those issues, so that it’s difficult to tell where the journalist ends and the community begins. This means the community “owns” the content. (Jurno is participatory.)
It means providing links to resources, to backgrounders, to people who are the “players” in resolving the issue, to databases, to other people who are dealing with the same issues and may have some answers. (Jurno is solution-oriented.)
It means being open about how we’re going about looking into issues, honest about mistakes, engaging with people, and helping people engage with each other. (Jurno is personal.)
It means adding value by providing information about relevant products and services from local businesses, and letting the community rate those businesses. (Participatory AND solution-oriented.)
It means managing the conversation; pointing out myths, rumors, and lies; and, occasionally, shining that light into dark places that are eating away at the health of a community. (Jurno is, at heart, journalism.)
As part of the preparation for the upcoming RJI Collaboratory Talkfest on Jan. 21 — “Putting Feet on the Streets for Journalism” — my research assistant, doctoral student Mark Poepsel, and I have been looking into successful social/news/information organizations. We’ve been playing around with a way to evaluate sites’ potential success in Webworld, and where they could improve.
More on the case studies and this evaluation tool in the next few days.