No News is Bad News, Event 2

No News is Bad News
Josh live Tweets the No News is Bad News event #2.

The second No News is Bad News event ("Making It Work: Journalism and Our Flying Car Future") was Thursday evening at City Hall. This one focused on what models are working or show promise for online, post-newspaper journalism.

It was encouraging and exciting how many ideas came out of this meeting. There's no "magic bullet" fix for what ails the news biz, but there are many possibilities. And that's a good sign.

Here, in no particular order of importance, are a few thoughts:
  • Making connections: Rita Hibbard (formerly of the Seattle P-I, now of InvestigateWest, a new still-forming news site) was talking about part of her group's business model: selling their work to other publications that might not be able to afford an investigative team. And Tracy Record of the West Seattle Blog, who was also on the panel, said: "We'd buy your stories." Bingo! Not only is it great to see these connections being made but it shows how journalists might finance their work, post-newspapers. Boutique sites will shop their product to other sites that would like the content but can't afford to produce it.
  • Buried in the statistics: Moderator Cory Bergman (LostRemote and MyBallard) cited statistics from a recent study on newspapers and their popularity among the public. The stat that I found interesting was how people looking for information on new businesses don't turn to newspaper web sites for that info. They look elsewhere (Yellow Pages sites, Google, etc.). So, why should advertisers try to promote new businesses on a newspaper web site? If newspapers want a piece of that money, they need to get connected to their communities. You need to know what your community is interested in and offer that.
  • Old tricks, new medium: Cory and Scott Durham (Instivate, Central District News) talked about things they are doing with advertisers (coupons, etc.) to show them how the community responds to their ads. Scott talked about providing hyper local coverage that wasn't available before. As I told several people, we did hyper-local years ago (and did some of those same things with ads) with the community weeklies I worked for here in Seattle. What's different is that the web is cheaper to publish on, faster and has more room for content. Scott raised a very good point: Hyper-local web sites are providing a place for small businesses to advertise and achieve good results. Many newspapers forgot those small businesses and priced ads out of their reach. The web puts them back in the game. And that's a good thing.
  • If your mother says she loves you, check it out: Scott talked about how stories you wouldn't expect to be big sometimes take off. He cited a reader post on Central District News where someone complained about a local pizza place. The debate took off with the pizza shop owner joining in. Rita Hibbard made an interesting point: Her first thought in that situation would be: Who is this person doing the complaining? Is it a competitor trying to slam another business? And that's a good point to remember. One of the things journalists are supposed to do is be skeptical and check out things like that and find out what's really going on. There's a sense that the community will sort out issues like this online. I'll be interested to see how that works. How does the community detect and report a fraud? What are the liability issues in a situation like that? This issue also came up during a discussion of citizen journalists and trust. Scott, I believe, noted that trust will have to be built over a period of time. And that's no different than it has always been with journalism. You build trust with your audience by reporting accurately over time. Violate that trust with bad reporting or false information and your audience will (rightly) dump you.
  • "Ricky and Lucy paid for Walter Cronkite:" I'm borrowing that quote from Art Thiel of nwsportspress.com, seattlepi.com and KIRO-AM. He made that point while the panel was discussing longer, investigative and narrative pieces. Those are costly to produce and can be hard to get people interested in reading. How to pay for them? Art's point was that that type of journalism really doesn't pay for itself. "I Love Lucy" paid for Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. How will online investigative reporters pay their own salaries? Mike Davidson of Newsvine, I believe, noted that we've never really paid for journalism. Journalism was the lure to get us to read/tune in for the stuff (advertising) that did pay the bills. The question for online news entrepreneurs: How do you find that revenue to pay for the journalism? Some people smirk at seattlepi.com's photo galleries, but those get people onto the site and bring in lots of hits and lots of ad dollars.
  • New tricks, new medium: Robert Khoo of Penny Arcade (he has no journalism background, which is a big help when you're trying to envision new models) encouraged people to think of new ways to promote your brand and make money. One of Penny Arcade's big money makers is the annual PAX game show in Seattle. GlobalPost in Boston is offering a premium service called Passport where you'll get access to exclusive content and a chance to talk with reporters and editors and even suggest story ideas. News web sites need to think like that. Khoo also talked about establishing your brand and identity online. If your readers trust you, your viewpoint carries more weight. Recommend a product (or a news story) and they'll be interested because they value your opinion.
  • Know the business side: Journalists have, for years, been told that the business side of the operation was not their problem. Indeed, we were told it was wrong to be interested in the business operations because that might taint our coverage. I think the main message of this event was that those days are over. At the least, journalists are going to have to have a business model and know how the bills are paid. Should you bend your coverage to suit advertisers? I wouldn't go down that route. Think "transparency." Tracy Record says that whenever West Seattle Blog mentions an advertiser in a story, they note that the business advertises with them. That informs the reader and alerts them to the potential of bias.
I could go on and on. Here's a link to the Twitter feed on the event. There's also a feed source at the No News is Bad News web site. And Justin Carder has extracted Tweets he thought were interesting here.

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