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Apr 2, 2008

NEWS: (Only) Two Visions for the Future of Blogging?

(Only) Two Visions for the Future of Blogging?

An interesting battle of the blogging titans was covered in the "Bits" section of today's New York Times. It's basically an exchange between popular technology bloggers (and blog owners) Michael Arrington and Rafat Ali. Their differing views are worth examining because they touch on a hot button issue in blogging and journalism: How are new for-profit business models impacting blogging and the journalistic integrity of bloggers?

In their personal scrap Mr. Arrington and Mr. Ali are tackling the difficult question of profitability models for blogging. Mr. Arrington seems to favor a monopoly approach, where blogs are brought together to form a kind of trust to benefit everyone. Mr. Ali, on the other hand, is apparently attempting to attract venture capital support for individual blogs to create verticals targeting niche markets.

What their disparate visions don't directly address is the individual blogger who either doens't get paid, doesn't get paid enough to do it for a living, or has no intention to blog for money. What will happen to these independents as blogging becomes more "professional", increasingly vetted, and commercialized? In short, is blogging worth paying attention to and will it survive intact if it doesn't attach itself to a business model of sorts?


Where's the Innovation in Business Models?

I've been following closely a theme that has developed here in recent days. It began last week with David Sasaki's post about thelegacy of the Knight family, continued with Dan Gillmor's call for more entrepreneurial thinking in journalism, and was amplified byJ.D. Lasica's call for newspapers to innovate or die...

While there is far too little happening on this end, there are some efforts to identify a way toward a more sustainable journalism that are worth noting:

  • Newspaper Next: Sponsored by the American Press Institute, Newspaper Next just released the second version of their research called, Making the Leap Beyond Newspaper Companies.Newspaper Next has been instrumental in pushing newspapers to look beyond ads for revenue. And they map out how to get there by creating a framework for newspapers to begin identifying opportunities.
    At the same time, the latest report chastises newspapers for being too timid when it comes to innovation, especially on the revenue side: "On the business side, too, innovation must happen faster because core revenues are declining steadily. But even when launching new products for consumers, companies are mostly sticking to existing business models."
  • VillageSoup: Ask Richard Anderson, one of the founders, what kind of business he's in, and he'll tell you community hosting. Not journalism or media. Though he does publish two local newspapers. Richard is also a News Challenge winner. He sees businesses as members of the community who buy subscriptions to the site (which include the ability to run ads, but also many other services).
  • ProPublica: Paul Steiger's new public interest journalism project, funded by foundations and a few rich people.
  • The Public Press: An embryonic effort by Michael Stoll to build a non-commercial news organization in the Bay Area (disclosure: I'm one of many, many folks who have advised him on this project).
  • The Next Newsroom Prototype: This represents maybe some of the best, most comprehensive thinking I've seen on the business and content side. (Note: This is different than my Next Newsroom project). But this draft plan, formulated by Chris Peck and Bill Densmore (with contributions from many others) contains a number of intriguing concepts, such as a community ownership plan and new ways to think about delivery of the print product. And its overall goal is to de-emphasize the dependence on ad sales. Read and it and steal some of these ideas. Better yet, print out a copy, and give it to your friendly, neighborhood venture capitalist.

What Journalism Needs: A Product People Want

When journalists were asked in a recent survey to identify the most important aspect of their work, 91% said "make my publication successful by creating appealing content for its audiences."

What a turn-around from the not too distant past when such sentiments would have been denounced in many newsrooms as pandering to the public and giving people what they want, not what they need.

How Can Ads Support Community News?

I'm going to be posting weekly questions here on Idea Lab to spark discussion by the various authors, as well as our community of readers. This week I'd like to follow up on the recent theme of new business models for local news sites. Many small hyper-local community sites start up with Google AdSense ads and other automated, quick ways of bringing in a small revenue stream. Eventually, though, they need to make more money than that, and must turn to local businesses to advertise. But it's difficult to entice small businesses online, as they are more likely to employ Google AdWords if they do anything at all. So how can community news sites get local businesses to advertise, and is there something they can offer the businesses beyond just a display ad or a place in an online directory? Is there a more creative partnership they might have, where reader/contributors could give the business honest feedback on the site -- positive and negative?

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