Monday, March 9, 2009

Notes from the 'Future of News' Seminar at Berkman Law School

I tromped down snowy Mass Ave this afternoon to go to a two-hour seminar on "The Future of News," organized by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law school. Obviously, as a long-time journalist, short-time blogger, and even-shorter-time videocaster and podcaster, I'm interested in the topic. (I was also part of the founding crew at in 1995.)

The two guests tonight were author and consultant Jeff Jarvis and Russ Stanton, editor of the LA Times.

As has been the case with many of these discussions that I've witnessed or participated in, there was much more fretting about the current state of things than there was talk about solutions, new directions, and new business models. I said to Stanton afterward that I feel there is a dearth of attention paid to new ways newspapers can develop advertising products that satisfy their local markets; he seemed to agree.

Following are my rough notes (all paraphrased) on what Stanton and Jarvis said in their 15-minute talks; I didn't take notes on the Q&A portion. Nor did I take notes on Josh Cohen's part of the evening. Cohen is the senior business product manager for Google News, and he chimed in via video link. Unfortunately, the video dropped out before he could contribute anything of substance.

Russ Stanton:

    Launched LA Times site in late 1995…but didn’t get serious about the Web until January 2007.

    More than half the photo staff is fully trained in video… on assignment, they’re likely to shoot photo and video.

    In addition to Web and print, also thinking about TV and radio and mobile as platforms for content distribution.

    Politics blog called “Top of the Ticket,” launched last summer – run by two of the oldest members of the staff – by last November, was among the top 60 blogs on the Internet.

    Two digital experiments the Times has done: Let readers define the boundaries of their neighborhoods on a map … and “Top Dogs” – most popular breeds and names (most Chihuahuas in LA are named Princess).

    LA Times is now the fastest-growing newspaper Web site in the US. Doubled traffic in 2008. 140m page views a month, and 9 million unique visitors a month. Fourth place among newspaper web sites.

    I don’t believe that pay models or micropayments are realistic solutions.

    There are no magic bullets or quick fixes.

    With the Times' Sunday Magazine, we're focusing on households with $125K or higher income, and taking circulation down by half.

    We need to develop content people will be willing to pay for – like, which has figured out how to mine every stat of every baseball game possible.

    Traffic dried up after we put entertainment industry coverage behind a pay wall for two years.

Jeff Jarvis:

    We used to live in a content economy. We’re now moving into a link economy.

    In a link economy, you only need one copy, and the links to it are what give it value. Content without links has no value. Content gains value as it gains links.

    Jounalists have to become aggregators and curators and community organizers. We have to become educators: when we have people helping do journalism, we have to help do it better. There’s a knowledge that we in journalism have that we’ve never shared.

    We thought we were the ecosystem of news in a community. Now, we shouldn’t even look at ourselves as the center of it. We should be at the edge.

    Glam is the #1 women’s brand online. 110 million unique visitors after three years; iVillage, the former queen, has 20 million. iVillage owns and controls content, and shoves ads at you – the old media model. We were the magnets. You came to us. Glam started a network that supports 800 sites. Less cost, more speed, less risk.

    Google created networks that allows others to succeed. My little blog has maps and videos from Google. I have Google ads; I made $4,000 in 2007 from it.

    To close things off behind a pay wall is suicidal in many ways.

    Newspapers are a horribly expensive structure. We can’t afford it anymore.

    We have a project at CUNY – New Business Models for News.

    At some point, you’ve got to turn of the presses if you want to find a sustainable new model.

    News is a process, not a product… it’s like a string with no obvious beginning or ending.

    Google puts things up as “betas.” News can be a beta – here’s what I know, here’s what I don’t know, what do you know? We never thought that way in news. We put out the paper once a day. If it was full of errors, that was a mess.

    The article itself may be an outmoded atomic unit of doing journalism. If you look at any story about the financial crisis, the background is either too much or too little. If you don’t know what a CDO is, two lines about a CDO in a story isn’t enough.

    Figure out how to make something the community wants you to make... to the point where the community takes it over (as it has with Craigslist.)

    If we invented newspapers today, they wouldn’t be on paper.

    Lucky papers will restructure contracts and go online… others will fold.

    There is no orderly transition, where print hands off to digital on January 20th [as with the Presidency]. There is destruction in the middle.

There seemed to my eyes to be more Twitterers in the audience than bloggers... here are some of the tweets. And here's some great coverage from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard, including video.

Labels: , , , , , ,