« Power to the edge » in the media too!

le 25 novembre 2009 par


logo2An old habit I kept from my Boston years is to listen to OnPoint Radio, which I enjoy very much. There is nothing comparable in France with such high level debates on the key topics of the moment.

The broadcast of November 19. , « Google vs. Murdoch », is a great moment and definitely worth listening. Guests were:

  • Jeff Jarvis, associate professor and director of the Interactive Program at the City University of New York School of Journalism
  • Michael Wolff, contributing editor at Vanity Fair and founder of the news aggregator Newser.com
  • Steven Brill, media entrepreneur, founder of CourtTV, American Lawyer magazine, and co-founder of Journalism Online.

If you listen to this great 45mn show, you will hear a lot of interesting comments from professionals who strongly -and often violently- disagree on the business model for the news industry in the years to come. The equation seems impossible to solve: on the one hand, journalists must be paid for their work, and on the other hand, both the subscription and the advertising business models have been damaged by the internet and by Google, which completely changed the rules of the game, by spreading advertising revenues on a wider population of content publishers.

Notwithstanding the obvious need for cost cuts in this industry like in others, it brings a totally new perspective  on the value of information. What are we newspaper readers really willing to pay for? It looks as if there is a general consensus that protecting content through online subscription does not make much sense for general news, because readers do no value repackaged news that they can find elsewhere for free.  Protecting content by IP rights does not work either unless it can be considered as creative work, which is highly questionable for most news articles. Relying on donations is not a very comfortable business model either. So what’s left?

Service.

If our piece of breaking news is published milliseconds ahead of all others, this has value. If it comes from first hand sources that nobody but you can approach, this has value. If you embody a living link between your readers and first hand information sources, this has value. But if you come later on, or if you are several degrees of separation away from the unique source, you are just a commentator. If you are good at it, your readers will reward you by linking to you, thus increasing your reputation as an expert, and hopefully associated revenues too (advertising, keynote, lectures..), but you will not be paid for the news.

So it looks as if the value creation of the news industry is shifting away from the center – formal content producing empires sending reporters throughout the world – to the edge –  intelligence networks of thousands of people acting as sensors and producing content on the fly and relying on aggregators, search engines and of course people to enrich the information and take it to the people who need it.

Sounds familiar? If you’ve read  « Power to the Edge », a must-read seminal book published in 2003 by the U.S. Department of Defense on information and organization management philosophy, it will ring a bell. And it is likely to be a wake-up call, too.

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