What's next for news?

Journalism 2.0 is a conversation about the intersection of journalism and entrepreneurship. It's about the new business models for news and the startups and new projects that are flourishing around us, giving us a preview of what's next for news.

Mark Briggs is editor of this blog and author of Journalism 2.0 (2007), Journalism Next (2012) and Entrepreneurial Journalism (2011). He co-founded of Serra Media and was Ford Fellow of Entrepreneurial Journalism at The Poynter Institute from 2010-2012.

You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Debate this: Is there enough market demand to support quality journalism

In my last post I discussed the first session of the Kiev conference I attended last week. Today I will look at the second session, which was organized as a debate.

First off, let me say that debates are a good format that conference organizers in the U.S. should consider. This is the second time I’ve participated in a debate at a journalism conference – both in Europe. This debate was described as Oxford-style with two speakers on each side of the question: Is there enough market demand to support quality journalism?. A moderator asked questions and kept time. Each speaker had a 5-minute opening argument but then was limited to one-minute responses to questions from the moderator and audience so the session kept moving briskly.

Briggs in Kiev

Briggs delivering his opening statement in the debate session. Click the image to see more scenes from the conference.

Before the debate, everyone in the audience placed a red or blue chip in a bowl to vote for their response to the debate question. The audience did that again after the debate and the winning team would be the one that gained more votes between the before and after votes.

My team lost (and I’m still bitter). But it was a great format and one that I think could be used for many interesting “future of news” questions at conferences like ONA, ISOJ, SPJ or SXSW.

I’m convinced that a misconception of the term “market demand” in the debate question lost the debate for my team. We saw the “market” as commercial and argued that many business models are emerging to support quality journalism. The other team argued saw the “market” as audience and argued that too few people want the tough, deep, investigative journalism because “it is too hard.”

Regardless the outcome, I enjoyed the session and could sense that the audience did as well. Which is no small feat given that there were two of us speaking English and three speaking Russian and the whole thing was being simultaneously translated in both languages (plus Ukrainian).

Think of the interesting questions that could be used in debates at conferences in the U.S.:

  • Is social media journalism? (the topic Mandy Jenkins and I discussed at SXSW this year)
  • Will paywalls save the U.S. newspaper industry?
  • Is being first in breaking news worth the risk of being wrong?
  • And … Is there enough market demand for quality journalism? (I want another shot at that one)

Take note, conference organizers. We all know the panel discussion format is beyond tired and powerpoint presentations are akin to visiting the dentist. Consider adding a debate to your next conference agenda and spice things up with a little intellectual competition.

Ukraine conference seeks answers to important questions

What will be the new model capable of sustaining the quality news?

That was a question pondered, discussed, dissected and debated last week at a conference in Kiev, Ukraine that I was honored to attend. The Foundation for Effective Governance hosted the conference at the Premier Palace Hotel and it drew some 350 attendees. Not bad for a high-minded discussion about the role of business supporting journalism in a growing democracy.

Briggs speaking in Kiev, Ukraine. Click the photo to see more images from the conference.

“Ukrainian media is going through the same struggle of adjusting to survive as the news outlets globally,” said Nataliya Bugayova, project manager at FEG and the person responsible for making the conference happen. “However, most innovations and new models of quality news are being developed oversees. Thus, we decided to bring these top foreign experts and innovators to share insight with Ukrainian audience and help them think of new solutions for quality news in Ukraine.

“Also, we aimed to put the question of the future of quality journalism on the national agenda in Ukraine and make all stakeholders- society, media market, policy makers- think of the role they can place to preserve the quality news.”

In the first panel discussion I tried to emphasize that, yes, there are new models capable of sustaining quality journalism and they are already emerging around us. But it’s not a singular model like printed newspapers or broadcast TV. It’s a hybrid model that combines different platforms and revenue sources. The “old” model relied so heavily on advertising – and just one or two types of advertising – which is why it has been so difficult to adapt in the digital age.

It felt a little like deja vu all over again. I’ve had this discussion so many times over the past five years in the U.S. but these questions are just now getting tackled in other parts of the world. I tried to explain how there is often a bit of revisionist history with the “old model” since people didn’t pay directly for news and/or content. They paid for the service that included printing and doorstep delivery (in the case of newspapers).

Briggs-Bugayova in Kiev

Briggs and Bugayova in Kiev

In some publications now, readers do pay directly for content as evidenced by the fact that the New York Times gets more revenue from subscriptions than advertising. That’s never happened before. Not even in the “golden age.”

Meanwhile, digital advertising is evolving and growing. Content marketing, native advertising, digital agencies inside of news organizations, events sponsorships … so many ways to make money to support the journalism. It doesn’t have to be a 1:1 ratio where readers pay directly to access content.

“Given the feedback from the audience, I believe it was a true value-add experience and that Ukrainian media professionals, especially the younger generation, took a lot of useful and new information from the event,” said Bugayova, who also used the conference to launch a journalism training program in Kiev.

An international lineup of speakers from diverse locales and backgrounds made the conference a rich experience for a journo geek like me. But I think it also effectively introduced the “future of news” discussion to a new audience in a way that made it accessible and understandable.

In my next post I will discuss the debate that I also participated in at the Kiev conference.

Journalism Next now available on Kindle

Just a quick note to let you know that the second edition of Journalism Next, which came out a couple months ago, is now available on Kindle at Amazon.com.

Thanks again to the fine people at CQPress who helped make this possible. I’ve heard from many educators, students and professionals who are finding lots of great material in the new edition. So thanks, too, to all my expert sources who contributed tips, tricks and knowledge for the text.

If you are a teacher and would like to request a review copy, you can do so here.

Hot off the presses: A new version of Journalism Next

In case you haven’t noticed, anything related to technology, communication and journalism changes pretty fast these days. That’s certainly one of the biggest challenges of writing a book about these topics.

With that in mind, I’m happy to report that a new version of Journalism Next is now available.

Originally published in 2009, in the days before Instagram, Pinterest, iPads and Kindle Fires, Journalism Next was adopted by college classroom and snapped up by mid-career professionals on Amazon.com. The 2nd Edition has tons of great new material, including contributions by Digital First’s Jim Brady, NPR’s Matt Thompson, CNN’s Lila King and Meg Peters of Mashable.

It’s now available at the CQPress website or Amazon.com. Educators can request a review copy if you’re considering adopting it for your course and the Kindle version will be coming along soon.


Force multiplier: BlogHer powering thousands of entrepreneurs

BlogHer is well-known in the digital content world but may not be as well known in journalism circles. The company was founded in 2005 by Lisa Stone, Elisa Camahort Page and Jory Des Jardins and, one could argue, it has done more to power entrepreneurial journalism than any other. (We’re done quibbling over “blogging vs. journalism,” right?)

Last weekend, the BlogHer Food conference came to Seattle so I took the opportunity to sit down with Camahort Page to learn more about this force multiplier. With 70 employees, BlogHer enjoys a diversified revenue model, hosting four events per year, powering 3,000 bloggers that reach 40 million unique users with its famous publishing network, running a popular online community at BlogHer.com with 140,000 registered users and performing custom research. It’s a model that seems ripe for repeating in other niche topic areas where assembling a valuable audience makes sense.

Here are the highlights from my conversation with Camahort Page:

On the founding of BlogHer:

Camahort Page: It started in 2005. Lisa Stone, Jory Des Jardins and I weren’t friends, weren’t colleagues, but we decided to throw a conference to show where all the women bloggers were. Our first conference covered all the same topics that tech and blog conferences did but all the speakers and experts were women.From there, after the first conference, with all that energy we decided to launch BlogHer as a company. We launched our blogger community at BlogHer.com and six months later launched our publishing network. We bootstrapped for two years and the intention was to continue to bootstrap. At the very first BlogHer (conference) we split the fee for the venue on our credit cards and that’s the only money we had to put in. We paid ourselves back out of that conference. From then on it’s been self-sustaining. We like to say we were profitable without paying the founders.

After two years we had 150 blogs with a combined 1 million uniques. The rest of the world was starting to catch up to our audience. We were afraid that some of the bigger media companies with deep pockets might try to buy the traffic that we were growing organically and nurturing. It would just kill us if someone leapfrogged over us because of money. So we raised three rounds of venture capital. Less than four percent companies with VC funding are women-led companies.

What advice would you give traditional news journalists trying to be entrepreneurial?

Camahort Page: For journalists, it’s getting over that hump of you are wearing two hats now. (The notion of journalistic objectivity) has created this false sense that they can’t sully themselves to make the money. That this wall is necessary and eternal between church and state and between publisher and editor in chief. And by the way, it doesn’t exist in traditional media anymore anyway. Look at product placement segments on television. The average user has no idea that people pay $60,000 to get a segment on Martha Stewart where she goes to visit your farm. People don’t know. It’s not disclosed. There’s no outcry about that but people are worried about a product giveaway on a blog. It’s crazy. I just feel like that’s the biggest challenge, the mental challenge of getting over the fact that you now need to be the publisher. You need to make business decisions. You have to have that faith in yourself that you can write content that you believe in, and be authentic and still seek sponsorship and seek monetization.

On the BlogHer Publishing Network and the changing landscape for monetizing digital content:

Camahort Page: (BlogHer network members) give us a piece of real estate and we sell their advertising and represent them. We also syndicate their headlines and promote their content. The world of blog monetization has changed. Banner advertising is certainly a big part of that revenue, but a lot of it is about other kinds of engagement, whether it’s sponsored conversations, integrated marketing campaigns, monetizing their social graph or making sure they get credit for the followings they’re developing outside their blog. It’s way beyond running static banner ads on blog. Quite honestly, in 2006, that what it was.

On the members of of the BlogHer Publishing Network:

Camahort Page: They are not all women. There is no rule. We have some men. But we are promising our advertisers that you are reaching over 90% women. David Leite, for example, is one of our most successful bloggers. He came from advertising and marketing in New York and he makes a better living with his blog than he did in advertising. He has employees. Elise Bauer has staff. She went from living with her parents because she came down with an illness and had to quit her job. We are sort of trying to help create little small businesses across our network. We did some surveys and found that about 12% are using it to pay rent, 14% are using it to buy their family’s groceries, and a really large percent who use it cover their costs (of blogging). More than half said they used the money to afford more than the basics (eg. a dinner out or a family vacation).

On the rising popularity of consuming content on mobile devices:

Camahort Page: Mobile is a big concern for the average everyday blogger unlike companies like Conde Nast, which are investing huge amounts of money to represent their content via mobile. How do you monetize with mobile? We do serve some ads into mobile. But how do we create something different? We don’t want to re-create the CPM ad model on mobile. Comscore doesn’t include mobile. And that’s just insane.

In summary: BlogHer continues to innovate its business model and find new needs to fill. More than 500 people attended the food conference in Seattle, which was the fourth year of the event, previously making stops in San Francisco and Atlanta. (It will be in Austin in 2013.) The annual BlogHer Conference will be held in New York in August and will draw more than 4,000 attendees. Earlier this year, the company held a new event called BlogHer Entrepreneurs to help its members build their businesses. It’s clear that BlogHer will be a driving force for content entrepreneurs for years to come.

This is what startup news success looks like

Ideas are cheap and execution is everything.

I’ve been saying this for a long time so it was with great pride that I was able to help build a two-day seminar the Poynter Institute for rookie journo-entrepreneurs packed with real examples of amazing execution.

In past entrepreneurial workshops and bootcamps, we tried to teach all topics related to starting a business, from incorporating, accounting and legal to time management and software tools. Each time we heard from students that they wanted more help with making money, which of course, is the lifeblood of any business. Without it, you die.

So we decided to stage a seminar focused solely on make money and Revenue Camp for Journalists was born. Highlights included:

  • Mike Orren, who founded and sold Pegasus News, with a deep dive into online advertising. It was the best lesson on the topic I’ve seen.
  • Rebecca Lovell, chief business officer at GeekWire and former executive director of the Northwest Entreprenuer Network, taught us how to stage a successful money-making event. (She has organized hundreds in her career.)
  • Chris Seper, founder and CEO of MedCity News, provided amazing detail on how this innovative Cleveland-based startup makes money with custom content, events, advertising and more.
  • Rafat Ali, who founded and sold paidContent, added important perspective from someone who covered the topic of making money with content as a journalist and is someone who raised a serious round of investment in his previous startup before having a successful exit. (Ali is about to launch a new project called Skift which is at the intersection of data and travel, he says.)

It’s an amazing experience as an author when the people and companies you write about come to life before you. (The dirty little secret of writing books is that most of the interviewing is done over email and phone.) As engaged as I was in every presentation, I know the attendees – 22 in person and another 100 online – were even more so, having been blessed with detailed, actionable information and guidance.

The key takeaways from my perspective:

  1. Think of your project as a product. Not media. Not journalism, Rafat said.
  2. Be customer-focused. Listen to them and make what they want, not what you want.
  3. Test your idea with as many people as you can. Follow the scientific method: you have a theory, now find some proof it will work.

If you missed the coverage on Twitter, here are links to Storify roundups of each of the sessions during the two-day event:

Part 1: Traits of successful journo-entrepreneurs and how to make money with advertising

Part 2: Making money with events

Part 3: Making money with subscriptions

Part 4: MedCity News and its diversified revenue model

Part 5: Buidling a business by Rafat Ali

What you need to know if you’re attending SXSW Interactive

The country’s biggest digital media conference, SXSW Interactive, kicks off  this week in Austin. What started as a small, niche offshoot of the more popular music conference has grown exponentially over the past 10 years and, thankfully, so has the presence of journalism at the confab.

I wrote about navigating this monster of a conference last year and, in the spirit of recycle, reuse, I thought I would dust off the highlights and offer them again. This will be my third SXSWi, and I’m fortunate to be speaking again, this year on a panel with some very smart people. We will discuss “The Hyperlocal Hoax: What happened to the holy grail” on Monday, March 12 at 9:30 a.m. (I will also be doing a book-signing of my recent book, Entrepreneurial Journalism, on Monday at 11:15 a.m. at the Bookstore on the fourth floor of the convention center.)

Shameless self-promotions aside, here are some suggestions for getting the most out of SXSW Interactive:

DO: Take advantage of the fact that there will be a ton of great content for journalists interested in interactive. There’s an entire track focused on journalism and online content so you could fill up your schedule with nothing else.

In an attempt to capture some of the intimate feel of the earlier iterations of SXSWi, the conference will feature “campuses,” meaning similar programming will be scheduled in one location to gather those “birds of a feather.” All the journalism sessions will be held at the Sheraton again this year and this will be a great opportunity for like-minded digital journalists to network. There are also a few parties scheduled for journalists, including the second annual Awesomest Journalism Party.

DON’T: Limit yourself to just the journalism content. Expand your horizons and drink from the firehose of SXSWi by attending sessions that have nothing to do with journalism, too. Some of my favorite sessions the past couples years were focused on seemingly obscure topics. The wealth of different perspectives on interactive at this conference means you will enrich your experience if you force yourself out of your comfort zone.

DO: Get some fresh air. The forecast calls for temps in the mid to upper 70s so if you’re coming from a northern climate, you’ll do yourself a favor by getting some Vitamin D. The Lady Bird Lake Trail near the convention center is a great place for a walk or jog. You can also walk the grounds of the state capitol or University of Texas.

DON’T: Be a wallflower. The people attending this conference are interesting and willing to chat, so introduce yourself and start conversations. You’re a journalist, after all. This is what you do. The first person I introduced myself to the first year I attended SXSW worked for Google. The second person worked for Facebook. I also met people from Israel and Australia and found myself at breakfast the first day with Jeff Pulver and his crew.

DO: Attend the parties, whether that’s your thing or not. Austin is one of the best cities in the U.S. for nightlife. Plus, this is where some of the best “networking” happens and where you’ll meet even more interesting people (thanks to that great social lubricant: alcohol.) And unlike most of the journalism conferences we all attend, the parties are a part of the official schedule. This is Spring Break for Geeks, after all.

DON’T: Stress out over the fact that there are too many good sessions to attend and you can’t possibly be in all of them at the same time. The opening slot on Friday has at least six sessions I wish I could hit, but there’s only one of me. If you’re not 100% sure on a session, pick one that is near one of your second choices. The sessions area spread out all over Austin so if the one you pick is lame and you want to duck out (totally acceptable at SXSWi), you’ll want Plan B to be nearby or you’ll spend too much time walking back and forth between venues.

If you are not attending the conference, you can follow along on Twitter. Or you might want to take a Twitter holiday if the flood of conference tweets coming your way will be annoying. Either way, look for some good summaries of the best new ideas to come out of SXSW in another week or so.

See you in Austin.

Slaying the zombie: Yes, you can make money online

Let me echo the fine post by Robert Niles over at OJR, since its focus is the same as Chapter 3 in my latest book. Making money publishing content online CAN be done, IS being done, and does not have to involve a paywall. As Niles advises:

Build a large, engaged community of readers, and advertisers who want to reach those readers will come to you. And stick with you, too.

In addition to advertising, Niles suggests eBooks, videos, merchandise and events. In my book and various talks, I have focused more on advertising, events, professional services and premium content, but I like Niles’ approach with eBooks. It’s a form of premium content that continues to grow in popularity with users – and former newspaper digital folks. Dan Pacheco has been operating BookBrewer for a couple of years now and Michelle Nicolosi recently left SeattlePI.com to start her own eBook business.

Premium video is a market I would love to see materialize. Until it does, video is still a worthwhile investment for news sites since the CPMs on video content are so much higher than regular banner ads (and way higher than network and remnant ads).

If you are interested in diving in deep on this topic, consider attending Revenue Camp for Journalists at The Poynter Institute in May. We are assembling a killer lineup of speakers, including Rafat Ali (paidContent), Mike Orren (Pegasus News) and Rebecca Lovell (GeekWire). More information here: www.poynter.org/revenuecamp

Six Traits of Successful Entrepreneurial Journalists webinar next week

I am frequently asked what traits to successful journo-entrepreneurs share. Having communicated with dozens of them while researching and analyzing their journalism startups in the past few years, I think I have a pretty good sense of what those common traits are and will discuss them in some depth next Thursday during a webinar hosted by the Poynter Institute. (Sign up here.)

Here’s what you will learn:

  • What is the current digital news landscape and who are the new players in it
  • How digital news startups make money, whether for-profit on non-profit
  • The common traits among successful news entrepreneurs, including dealing with money, selling and openness

The content for this presentation is new and based on a session I recently led for Dan Gillmor at Arizona State during a week-long bootcamp for journalism professors learning about teaching entrepreneurial endeavors. I think they were pleasantly surprised at how many of the traits of successful journo-entrepreneurs are similar to the traits that successful journalists would share.

I hope you can join us next Thursday.

Good journalism AND good capitalism

Can a good journalist be a good capitalist? It’s a question that was posed miles away but influenced a dynamic discussion about journalism startups at last night’s #Newsnext meetup in Seattle, co-sponsored by ONA and SPJ.

On display were GeekWire and Xconomy, two startups I have written about before, which are thriving using different approaches to the seemingly same problem/opportunity. Xconomy is a local/national, operating with small staffs in a handful of cities covering technology with an emphasis on biotech, clean tech and other more “industrial” segments. GeekWire is only operating in Seattle with two journalists, one biz dev person and a handful of part-timers and freelancers. Its focus is driven by the journo-founders, Todd Bishop and John Cook, and their proven track record for covering  consumer technology topics that are important to Seattle: Microsoft, Amazon and the vibrant venture-funded and increasingly mobile startup companies that dot the landscape here. (Full disclosure: In my role at KING 5-TV, I brokered a content partnership with GeekWire.)

Frank Catalano, a digital consultant and former broadcast journalist, moderated, drawing salient observations from Curt Woodward, a writer for Xconomy, and Rebecca Lovell, Chief Business Officer for GeekWire. Among the best insights:

  • 30% of GeekWire traffic is international. Traffic growth has been “stunning,” according to Lovell.
  • The top two revenue sources at Xconomy are sponsorships/underwriting and events. It is not a CPM-based business model, which according to Woodward, allows journalists to feel they have to chase “clickbait.”
  • Lovell, who has an MBA and is the former executive director of the Northwest Entrepreneur Network, said she worries about feeding John’s and Todd’s families and is constantly aware of the company’s burn rate. One piece of advice she offered other startups: “Hire slow and fire fast.”
  • Both startups are thinking beyond content in searching for ways to serve their communities – and make money. Events are the top example, here. As Lovell tweeted later, “there’s a big difference between creating value and making $. focus on the 1st, the 2nd follows.”

Catalano  ended the session perfectly, drawing on an essay he wrote some 20 years ago, titled: “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Airwaves.”

Basically, thinking about the issues in 1992 and comparing them to the issues of 2012 … even though the form may change, there will always be people driven by curiosity who will want to know more about what’s going on, and have a passion for explaining it to others.

And people who want to receive that explanation, creating a market that can support innovative startups like Xconomy and GeekWire (among many others).