Exploring A New Economic Model For A Newsroom Built On Community-Based, Interactive Journalism

SUMMARY: Could journalism survive and prosper under a different economic model built around an interactive, community-based news coverage philosophy?

This question engaged a group of talented legacy media journalists, New Media entrepreneurs, journalism think take executives and journalism professors who gathered during a weekend retreat in October, 2005.

Their thoughts and ideas were part of the Journalism That Matters conference hosted by the Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Here is a working outline of the business plan and journalistic concept that emerged from these discussions.

The newsroom and news gathering

This operation begins with a newsroom. The newsroom will be built from scratch, outside the corporate and institutional structures of current big media companies;

The newsroom employs the most talented journalists available who are committed to community-driven, interactive journalism that works directly with citizens to conceive, shape and produce the news; Staffers may come from disaffected journalists and managers who have left the business, young New Media students and entrepreneurs, community members, including retirees,

The newsroom generates content through three tiers of news-gathering:

Tier 1) Hyper-local community-contributed content; stories, photos, e mails;

Tier 2) .Content shaped by reader suggestions and content gathered with the help of journalists in the newsroom. Examples: aggregation of blogs, summary of e-mail inquiries, etc.

Tier 3) Big –J stories written, photographed, recorded by professional journalists

The newsroom presents news on the most appropriate platforms for the audiences being served. All journalists need some familiarity with multimedia presentation.

Community connections to the newsroom.

The newsroom goes where it is invited and works directly with the community to define a news-gathering philosophy and establish what the community expects from the newsroom.

A community oversight board serves as board of directors for the newsroom.

All journalists work directly with smaller groups of community members who have special interests and knowledge of topics of particular interest to the community.

A community marketplace of story ideas serves as a key driver for where the journalists focus their attention and work, and where community contributions are sought and developed.

The newsroom organizes community forums, conversations, seminars to help work through issues and challenges facing the community. Publishes results, keeps conversations going.

An open-source model for news gathering allows everyone in the community to community to review stories in progress, comment on them, offer suggestions, leads, and additional information.

Community self-publishing allows community members to post community items, calendar items, neighborhood news, local sports, for others to see.

Tracking, posting and publishing results from electronic spiders and robots search the Web for daily content about the community developed by others around the region, nation, and world. Edited by new kind of `triage editors.’

Develop news bus that visit key public gathering sites/events where people are invited to contribute to the news content. Examples: Fans at stadiums after big games. Movie theaters after opening of new films to get instant reviews.

Build a Wi-Fi network in the community; provide free or at a discounted rate low-cost laptops or personal computing devices to community members so they can access news content online; possibly as part of paid subscription, or Cable TV business model.

New business model to support this newsroom

This model operates with a positive cash flow, but is more akin to a non-profit organization, a foundation, or a co-op and does not assume the profit margins of today MSM.

The newsroom seeks community investments in the newsroom. These could come from a variety of sources including;

  • Sell shares; organize a co-op, in the local news operation.
  • Developing a `utilities model’ whereby a community taxing agency or non-profit agency offers regular support to the newsroom, and has some oversight responsibility for it.
  • A cable TV model, where users pay a monthly fee and can access a tier of services (extra sports, more on business, etc.) for different fees.
  • Supporters who `buy’ certain added content features, reporting efforts and pay through a `tip jar’ for content they like.

Some funding will come from alternative sources where conversations occur in a community.

For example, the organization would buy and then develop a News Café that sells coffee, desserts, etc. and serves as a community gathering place where café visitors can post community news, answer newspaper-generated e mail questions, write a story, respond to a story or interview request. And, community members can come and write, speak, sing, with their commentary posted as part of the news report.

The organization could buy and develop a community center where events are held, concerts are held, town hall meetings are convened. These events, in turn, would lead to conversations and news coverage for the newsroom to track and report.

Ask foundations to fund a test of this model as an alternative to today’s media and as a way to build community.

Sell online/print ads.

Work with local activist groups, churches, unions, retirees who might want to support a different business model.

Where and how to launch

Option 1: A smaller town that isn’t served by a newspaper, TV station, radio, or served poorly by these media.

Option 2: City model: Identify a segment of a larger urban area that is not being served by dominant media.

Option 3: Affinity/non-geographic model; identify an ethnic group, age group, or interest group that is not being served.

Next steps:

Identify core group interested in pursuing the model.

Identify communities that could be receptive to the project.

Meet with the community to pitch the idea and gauge reception.

Test it.

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