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    How the Local Newsroom of the Future Might Operate

    by Mark Glaser
    April 30, 2007

    i-cfe648044f7d8bae621269e6d39369a4-CNN DC newsroom.jpg
    Sometimes as media-watchers, we get caught up in philosophical debates about whether newspapers will survive in future times, whether people will still want to have TV news anchors read them the news, and whether non-commercial NPR will continue to survive and thrive in the age of podcasting. In the past, I’ve played a few different meme games to stoke thought on the difficult subject of the future for media, whether it was Oldthink vs. Newthink or Imagining a Future Tense for Newspapers.

    Now I want to get down to more of the nitty-gritty of how a future newsroom might operate. Rather than confine the idea to a local print newspaper or local TV station, I want to imagine a local newsroom that has one overriding goal: “Serve the public by collaborating with them and delivering the news they want on the platform of their choice.” If people want to read it on their cell phones, great. If they want to print it out or get a print edition, that will be possible. If they like video, there will be video. If they want podcasts, there will be podcasts. If they want to dig in and help out, they can.

    How would such a newsroom work without the weight of a legacy media outlet, without the history of management and circulation and broadcast towers and every other piece of infrastructure that is ingrained in the institutional memory of so many old media operations? And perhaps most importantly for the media industry, how can such a nouveau operation make money? Let’s look at this idea, what I’ll call the “New Newsroom” or NNR, point-by-point.

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    Leaner Operation
    There is a tendency for people to fault corporate news operations that lay off staff to boost profits. But rather than make a blanket statement on staff cuts, let’s try to look at this issue as a subtraction and addition of staff. For every person let go who used to run newspaper presses, there would likely be another web developer added. For every person who drove a bulky TV newsvan around, there would be a search engine optimization expert added. In general, we might foresee these types of changes:

    Subtractions: Legacy media production people; legacy media distribution people, including newspaper delivery people; circulation departments; middle management; reporters who focus on one platform.

    Additions: Multi-platform multimedia reporters and producers comfortable working in text, stills, audio or video; online community managers; web development experts; mobile development experts; programmer-reporters or mash-up specialists.

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    I would envision a full-time staff that is much smaller than the average metro local newspaper and a somewhat smaller operation than a local network TV affiliate. However, the range of freelancers would extend from volunteer community involvement in online comments and news tips to paid expert bloggers on niche subjects.

    Ways to Make Money
    There are the usual ways that media outlets make money online and in various platforms. Advertisements online and/or in a print adjunct publication or in an audio podcast or in a video report. Sponsorships for niche subject blogs. Charging money for print publications, or for specialized online or mobile content.

    But perhaps the most intriguing ideas for making money have yet to be explored by such a local newsroom: those cutting edge user-generated ads or special online forums set up for advertisers to get real feedback from their customers. Imagine a car dealership that created its own webpage on the newsroom’s site. The site might contain the latest offers from the dealer, but might also contain a blog written by the dealer herself, along with feedback from people who have interacted with the dealer in the past. The more open to criticism such a business would be, and the more it could roll with the punches, the more popular such a page might become.

    How Management Works
    Management of such a New Newsroom would be challenging. The usual top-down hierarchy of most newsrooms would be adjusted to allow more voices into the decision-making process. That means the entry-level reporter would be able to have more dialogues with a publisher or an editor in chief, and that community experts would be included in any major decision made by NNR — from choosing subjects for special reports to choosing platforms for content delivery. Rather than turn the process into anarchy, or having too many chefs in the kitchen, management would have to balance openness with a need to get things done in a timely fashion.

    Collaboration with the Community
    When would the community become part of the newsgathering and reporting and follow-up process? In every feasible part. NNR’s website could include a Digg-like page where community members can vote up the stories they’d like to see covered by the newsroom. Community experts could be part of the daily editorial meeting. Reporters could collaborate with their expert sources in the community, not only getting quotes from them but also asking them to help in the reporting process.

    Platform Independence
    NNR would strive to report the stories in ways that fit the subject matter and in formats the audience desires. If a story similar to the recent freeway collapse in Oakland deserves to get multimedia coverage, then NNR might dispatch a reporting crew to the scene with a still camera, videocamera and audio recorder. While the homegrown staff was working on gathering information, another editor would be combing the area for citizen eyewitnesses who might also provide video, still photos or their own first-hand accounts on a special blog.

    Not every story would get the multimedia treatment. That determination might be made by editorial staff at the start of the story idea, or it could be made on the fly depending on what media comes in from the community. The important overriding credo is that NNR will deliver the news in whatever way the community craves and is economically feasible, including online video, audio, print, online, mobile, TV or radio. Each locality will decide what’s necessary to meet their needs.

    The Shape of Stories
    After initial completion, each story could take the shape of a tightly controlled wiki. Each edit to the story wiki would go through either a trusted freelance community editor or a paid editor from NNR. Stories would live online in an initially reported form, as well as in the editable wiki form that could be updated over time as things change. These living archives would have the potential to engage more members of the community, but could also add a heavy workload to staffers. The editable wikis could be shut in case they are overloaded with edits by vandals or political idealogues. The rules for shutting wikis or comments would be consistent throughout the website.

    Thinking Outside the Box
    One of the ways NNR can break from the past is to hire or talk to people who aren’t simply trained to be journalists or ad salespeople or marketers. Why not bring in a professional athlete to blog about sports, or a contractor to do a podcast about the housing market, or a registered nurse to run a discussion forum about health care issues? Giving local experts a way to go beyond sound bites and pull-quotes would have a strong impact on the community.

    What do you think? How do you imagine a future local newsroom might operate without the constraints of legacy media? Can this business model work? How do you see things playing out in 5, 10 or 15 years in local media? Share your thoughst in the comments below.

    Photo of CNN’s DC newsroom by Lee Hughey.

    UPDATE: There’s been some great discussion in the blogosphere reacting to this blog post. As usual, I don’t consider my views into the future as the be-all, end-all, but rather the start of a larger conversation. One of the more interesting responses came from Jeff Crigler, the CEO of online news syndicator Voxant and blogger at the News2020 Project. He was pondering the future of newspaper distribution as he watched a local boy throwing papers onto people’s lawns:

    Today’s news is more fluid. We catch it at the Department of Motor Vehicles on a news ticker, we hear it on the radio in our cars, we see it on a TV in the hotel lobby, or we get it via email or a portal. While distribution has been diffused throughout culture, the channels of distribution are still owned by corporations. With the newsroom of 2020, distribution, like content creation, will be shifted — at least in part — to the citizenry as the role of editor and paperboy are mashed up into a hybrid hierarchy-less job description. These distributors of the news will select the news that is of most interest to their readers — be it 10 or 10 million of them — creating customized news lenses.

    Although you may not see the paperboy of 2020 trailing his dad’s minivan, tossing newspapers onto porches, you can bet I’ll still be bumping into him on my early morning bike rides.

    Tagged: media criticism newspapers newsroom
    • Great stab at the New News Room! No doubt multi-media journalists will reign supreme heck, they all ready do! But your analysis took things to the next level of detail on the content creation side. Ive put together my own thoughts on how content distribution might be different in the future over that the News2020project. Would love to know what you think.

      Jeff Crigler, Voxant
      News2020 Project

    • Great start, Mark and written from a really refreshing point of view.

      Can we talk about a little more about “Multimedia” – since that is a buzzword no journalist can agree on for a definition.

      It seems to me that what’s changed is the audience’s expectations for interactivity and transparency to be included in every media experience.

      The media consumer’s definition of multimedia is what matters, no?

    • Stephanie Kanowitz

      Hi Mark,

      Interesting ideas about the future of local newsrooms. I think many of them could be applied to any newsroom, too.

      I am particularly interested in the new jobs that might replace traditional ones. I wonder if you or anyone else knows how much journalism schools are adapting their curricula to prepare students for these new careers.

    • To me the most interesting part will be balancing editorial processes with citizen journalism processes. Recent Digg example will occur on local level as well, and you can think of many different manifestations of it other than DVD cracking.

    • Things like that are coming together out here. We’re having our first open-house slash meet-up to demonstrate the idea. No paid staff yet, but I think working with the people will get us to that point.

      Great stuff, Mark.

      -kpaul

    • Mark, great insights on most of the topics covered in this. Feels like the “how to make money” bit could use some fleshing out, though… ;>

    • Ernesto – The trick to that, for me anyway, is to work on creating several small revenue streams rather than concentrate on one big one. That is, I get a little money from Google, a little money from our classifieds, a little money from ValueClick, a little money from local advertisers, etc. Those little bits *do* begin to add up, though.

      I’m currently working on a photo reprint system (another little revenue stream hopefully)…

      -kpaul

    • I ran into a couple of interesting road blocks trying to commit a little citizen journalism in Atlanta recently. Here’s the tale, with some crucial lessons to be worked on as takeaway:

      By using a neighborhood discussion board, I was able to determine that residents in my City of Atlanta ‘hood were having issues with extreme and erratic water bills. Many homeowners were eager to participate in documenting our problem, and a couple of ’em even compiled the data we solicited into a nice, readable spreadshheet.

      Then one neighbor moreorless co-opted the “project”, which I had intended to present to any interested local media outlet, by urging people NOT to “make a splash” with media, but to use the data we had so carefully compiled to present to City Hall to pressure the water dept. to fix our problem instead. And so that’s just what she did!

      Of course resolution of the water bill issue was the goal, but I don’t think I made my case for also committing citizen journalism very well. You can lead the people to the citizen journalism table, but you can’t make ’em drink it.

      And now I’m not sure how to proceed, as while I don’t want to “make a splash” by creating ill will amongst neighbors who don’t share my eager vision of exploring new ways of working with local media, I am still very keen on finding out if local media would be interested in using our research and data to take this story to the city-wide level we residents don’t have the resources to take it to. (And I’ve even shot video that could be “donated” to the cause!)

      So the path to creating a “hybrid” — a fluid informationtal flow between citizens, newsrooms, publicity, and resolution has some interesting, unexpected kinks to be worked on.

    • Angel

      WOW. I think your analysis is very well thought out and strategically outlined. My one question… or possible concern, would be the communities involvement in the daily production of news gathering. I’m not sure how likely it will be to have committed community members willing to work/volunteer at news organizations to help determine what news will air. Have you thought about demographics and the likelihood in urban and not so affluent areas?

    • You paint a compelling picture of the newsroom of the future. I am a graduate-level journalism student and I agree that in the future, newsrooms will be populated by those who can do more with less. To survive we will have to have a broad base of skills just to keep up.

      The industry is in a state of flux, but the headlines suggest that old ways of thinking may cause traditional media to follow a fate similar to many American car companies: change or become increasingly irrelevant.

      To stay relevant, we need to look at the trends. We dont want to be pumping out lumbering SUVs when the cost of staying competitive calls for lean and agile Hybrids.

      You address several important issues in your blog post.

      Freelancers, outsourcing, crowdsourcing, and computer-assisted reporting will play a larger role in many organizations, but will this significantly affect the quality of the product?

      Regarding the ways to make money and the new attitude of the management, I dont see the larger organizations as willing to relinquish control over advertising or their hierarchy. Will this be forced upon them by falling profits?

      Do guest bloggers count as some sort of free advertising or advocacy for a sports team, real estate agency, or hospital? Are they live blogs? Do we edit their blogs before they are published? Would it be better to moderate a discussion or have a live interview?

      These are all questions that have to be answered as we go. There is balance out there between the fourth estate and fourth-quarter profits, flat networks and hierarchy, active participation and passive consumption, professional and citizen journalism. Our assignment: find it.

    • Fern Howe

      Great insights, and an interesting look at one potential future for journalism. To piggyback on what Angel said above, if the community is underrepresented, or if all concerns in the community are not represented equally, will that affect the “fair and balanced” aspect of reporting? Particularly in a situation such as the editable wiki you propose above. Even with editors watching for red flags, the workload would be immense, as you say, and those editing the story may change its slant unintentionally.

    • Jessica

      Very interesting article! I am very intrigued by your suggestions on new ways for news outlets to make money. It would be fantastic to see an advertiser put themselves out there to be part of a dialog that could affect them in a very honest way. But it could also enhance revenue in a way they never imagined. If they communicate with their customers that later makes them better at servicing them…it would be an amazing thing to test out.

      I also had a question regarding your comments on community involvement. Similar to both Angel and Fern’s comments above, I too share concerns about the aspect of community involvement. In particular, “honest” experts. If these experts were town council or town proprietors, who themselves may be the subject of news, do you think they could be driven to take advantage of this dialog? Could they try and push through ideals that adhere to their own personal agenda?

    • Josh K

      Poignant and timely piece given the mass rush of user-generated content on the web. I agree that media will have to evolve to keep up with the times. However, here are my concerns:

      – Cultural gap: Domestically, we have to consider the age gap between the current audience and the future audience. Baby boomers and above with limited knowledge of the inner-workings of the net would still need a basis in traditional media. Globally, while a large percentage of the population will have access to content as mentioned above, there will still be an even larger percentage without the means to obtain information without traditional media venues.

      – Traditional gatekeepers: Given the pre-disposition of people to go with what is familiar, traditional media are not likely to abdicate without a fight.

      – Agendas: With current media sources, those with specific agendas are relegated to the fringes of communication (Fox News aside). With an NNR approach, it is possible for a more fanatical element to gain a more mainstream audience.

      – Money: In many cases, high advertising revenue is often based upon the ability to hit as many eyeballs at once. As media shift to non-traditional sources, advertisers could potentially be willing to spend less, cutting revenues overall. While Google has proven this can be an effective method, without the safety net of traditional media, this could become more problematic.

    • biesan abu-kwaik

      The new concepts of such a newsroom are extremely intriguing and interesting, but I think it will be challenging to achieve. One issue that comes to mind immediately is how easily the older staff would deal with such a change? I remember when I first started at my current job with several other young newcomers we faced several difficulties dealing with the older staffers. There was an on going conflict between our “new” way of thinking and dealing with the news verses the more traditional ways. At the same time, the experience and insight these older journalists add to the news process would still be vital in such an integrated multi-tasked, multi-plat formed news room.
      Another issue that comes to mind is the collaboration with the community, relying on community experts and volunteers. While their role would bring a different edge to the media but I suspect that their objectivity in some areas might be in question. There are no guarantees that they wouldnt enforce personal political views or merely personal interests in their reporting. In addition to that, the ability to edit stories using “wiki” style might be in the area of suspicion especially the question of who edits the stories and how accurate the are?
      I was also wondering whether working at a multi-task multi-platform news room with a limited number of staff might sometimes lead to diverting the attention away from some news stories or details.

    • Erin Sansone

      Mark-This is an interesting and timely read. Issues pertaining to advertising, cultural and age gaps and changing jobs will all need to be addressed. How about the money and time it will cost newspapers to make the switch? Take for instance a 25,000-circulation paper that employs 50 Editorial staffers. How much money will they spend upgrading machines, software and training current employees they want to keep? How many years will it take? After they do this, will they still be behind in terms of technology? This is definitely an exciting and complex time.

    • Amal Chmouny

      Crowdy and alive but vague!

      When I finished reading this article, I look above my computer screen and tried to figure it out. It is very crowdy and alive!

      I thought that Serve the public by collaborating with them and delivering the news they want on the platform of their choice is the foundation of your imagination for a NNR. I will choose to omit some words and my future newsroom will serve the public by delivering the news on the platform that suits the news itself.

      In your future Newsroom you discard the fact that the world is becoming one big village and news are no more local.
      Therefore, I think that the newsroom needs to be selective in dispatching their content, and be selective in choosing the medium of publishing.
      The newsroom cannot play the role of News Agencies or they dont want to, even if the news are local.

      Of course, I would like to know what is going on in my neighborhood, but I must know for example what is going on with the oil prices (which some will argue that its not important for the mass population) and how it will impact people daily lives. So the News are no more LOCAL, they are in my opinion Internationally Local.

      I like the idea of a NNR filed with multimedia professionals, this is very surrealistically attractive, but I think we will need more people armed with the power of publishing.

      To deliver news on any platform you need people with power, journalists that the company will trust to give them the authority to push the button.

      In my opinion, the future newsroom will need to break the news as much as to cover it. Breaking the news give more incentives and play the magnet role to obtain the money.
      Money goes where people interests go, therefore, when the audience will trust a media provider, Advertisements need to be there.

      The independence point is questionable. What does it mean independent media outlet or does independence ever existed, exist or will exist in the future?

      Does the participation of the public play a role towards a real independent media outlet?
      Or this independence which will be the outcome of this participation will take sideways in form of blog and comments but the main mediums TV, Website, Newspaper, Radio and magazine will keep their highways busy?
      It is vague to me!

      Amal Chmouny

    • Mbuh G. Payne

      I am extremely thrilled by your article.It reminds me of the great fear that is on every journalist’s mind these days; the fate of the printed newspaper. The fear of this ancient meduim getting lost is what is very troubling to many people world wide today.Your analysis presents this problem succinctly.Your article also presents a good paradigm on the nature of what is generally considered by the man-in-the-street as the laying off of staff by the print newspapers. You carefully presented the metamophosizing nature of the problem by explaining that the multimedia journalist is getting hired at the time that one print journalist is getting thrown out of the door. Lesson from that is that old school journalists should consider returning to school to enrich their skills with multimedia and web journalism skills.

      However, I would be glad to know if your write up actually took in perspective, the fact that the world has not axctually achieved global communication, and that the very traditional means of communication like the newspaper and radio which for some reason are getting obsolete in the US and the Western world as a whole, are yet to celebrate their second decade in some communities around the world.The technologyical advancement we witness in the US and Europe and even in some parts of Asia is not equittably distributed around the world. We still have some places in the world that have never had a newspaper or radio station in their location.
      So, my question is this. Do you think that the hanging fate of the newspaper ( as many people predict and as you highlighted in your writeup above) is ready in jeopardy around the world or is it a problem minted by the US and some western nations to defend their rapid technological advancement?

      Thanks.
      MBUH Payne

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