July 9, 2009

Time for innovative news models

Gang at Guardian

JD LasicaOne of the highlights of the Traveling Geeks trip to the United Kingdom this week came Tuesday night when the Guardian held its first-ever podcast in front of a live audience for its Media Live program.

The panel — tech blogger Robert Scoble, Sarah Lacy, blogger at TechCrunch, columnist at BusinessWeek and co-host of Tech Ticker on Yahoo!, myself, BBC tech correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones, Emily Bell, the Guardian’s director of digital content, and moderator Matt Wells — tackled a big question: the future of the news media, the rise of Twitter, and whether newspapers will survive. And members of the 110-member audience took part toward the end.

The podcast just went live. Stream or download (Time 51:13):

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(You can also listen to it, naturally, on the Guardian site.)

A few highlights

The entire 51 minutes is well worth a listen — I think it’s one of the smartest podcasts I’ve been a part of. A few snippets:

• I returned to the problem of newspaper culture that punishes, rather than rewards, experimentation, innovation and failure (without which innovation is impossible). But harping on newspapers’ failures is like shooting dinosaurs in a barrel.

• Sarah Lacy suggested that we may see 10 metropolitan cities without a daily newspaper by the end of the year. (I think the time frame is more likely on the order of two to three years.)

• I was sorry we spent almost no time on emerging models for news, which will likely not involve a newspaper (but then again, the Guardian draws its revenue primarily from its print publication). I suggested that newspapers explore the idea of opening up their websites to become open-source community platforms.

• Robert Scoble said the news industry must learn that business models are changing. TechCrunch makes the majority of its money from charging admission to its conferences.

• With all the changes in the media, I said news consumers need to become smarter and more discerning. They need a BS detector or, as Hemingway said, a crap detector.

• Joking that on the web you’re never wrong for long, Bell said that exclusivity was diminishing in value with the speed at which stories circulate now. “Very few news organizations live in the center of the story. The rest is about context,” she said. I wanted to counter that correcting your story doesn’t mean much if the mistaken version has been retweeted 10,000 times, but we had moved on to another subject.

• I suggested that in 5 years, Kevin Anderson — the Guardian reporter who’s one of the sharpest minds in journalism — could be working for Twitter and the Guardian could well be out of business.

• I also suggested that news organizations would have to find a new business model to pay for investigative journalism, in-depth reporting, enterprise journalism because it’s hard work — very few people want to spend their Saturdays digging through corporate or government records.

• From the Twitter gallery, Tom Foremski suggested that the panel was stuck on the old media vs. new media collision when there is more media today than ever before. While that’s true, traditional news organizations are not taking up the new tools and opening their doors to new approaches with nearly the same speed that startups and alternative news publications are.

And that way spells disaster.

(Photo: As fellow geek Craig Newmark speaks in the background, I took this photo of Traveling Geeks Susan Bratton, Ayelet Noff, Meghan Asha and Renee Blodgett.)

Related coverage:

• Kevin Anderson in the Guardian: ‘Traveling Geeks’ discuss journalism in the 21st Century.

• Ayelet Noff at TechCrunch Europe: Is journalism dead in the 21st Century? (Also see second video, with interview of Howard Rheingold about the teaching of 21st century journalism.)

• Jeff Saperstein at TravelingGeeks.com: The Guardian Dialogues.JD Lasica, founder of Socialmedia.biz, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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