It’s Not About The Business Plan

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 Continue reading

Of News Branding and a Journalism Mensch

Last week NPR Science Editor Anne Gudenkauf and I were chatting about journalism’s future. The occasion was the first week of NPR’s third pilot workshop/immersion into Webcentric journalism. Most of the science desk is taking time off from their regular duties for five weeks. [I wish other mainstream jurno organizations would take such an organized and committed approach. It might be difficult, but there’s no other sustainable way to move gracefully into the Medium Taking Over the World.] As associate faculty at Knight Digital Media Center at UC Berkeley, I’m helping out with NPR’s transition into Web-world. [Here’s an AJR article about the project.] And as a fellow at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, I’m focusing on how to ensure the future of journalism.

To the point of this post: I told Anne it seemed as though journalism — the word, the value and understanding of its role in democracy — was lost. Two events prompted that statement. First, when I asked a group of Stanford University sophomores if journalism had ever affected their lives, they said no, although they said they did tune into news, via friends and certain Web sites. Two, the bashing of the “media elite” at the recent Republican convention — without a mention of the role of journalism in a nation where freedoms are so valued — seemed a bit contradictory.

Anne’s response: Perhaps news-organization branding is obfuscating journalism? That’s a bingo. People tar Continue reading

Journalists w/o Journalism?

Oh so sad. An upcoming free half-day seminar – Journalists without Newsrooms — on Sept. 24 at the National Press Club could be titled “Journalists without Journalism.” Less than half of the panelists offer advice on how to continue doing journalism. The rest include tips on how to switch to the film business, public relations, newsletters, association work and, yo ho!, private investigations.

Paper Cuts keeps tabs on vanishing jobs

Paper Cuts keeps tabs on vanishing jobs

Holy moly. If that’s all we can come up with, journalism’s sunk. Where are the workshops and seminars that offer an entrepreneurial roadmap for the 10,764+ jurnos who’ve lost their jobs so far this year? Can’t anyone just look at the proliferation of niche news/info networks popping up in the Medium That’s Taking Over the World to see that plenty of opportunity exists for journalists…and journalism?

This year, I’m fortunate to be doing a fellowship at U. Missouri’s new  Reynolds Journalism Institute to help figure out how to ease the transition for jurnos by developing free or very-low-cost community-centric news/info templates. But that’s just one tiny part of what needs to be done. More on that soon.