A Collage of Business Models from NewsTools2008

    by Paul Lamb
    May 5, 2008

    Some of the most interesting discussions and demonstrations at last week’s NewsTools2008 conference Silicon Valley centered around making the changing news landscape sustainable. Here are some of the ideas I heard, along with a few of my own:

    1) News Consultancies: Leveraging local information channels & relationships to connect average people with local influencers and experts.

    -An online/offline service which people pay journalists to help them navigating local political/business channels. i.e, the fastest way to get a building permit approved or knowing which local developer to talk to about a project.
    -recommending a trustworthy plumber of mechanic.
    This idea has some interesting potential, particularly on creating local communities of trust via social networking, but it also might disadvantage journalists who are no longer viewed as objective reporters but as knowledge brokers for hire.


    2) Paid reporter access: News organizations offering a “premier access package” that allow the buyers to participate in a group or one-one-one session with a well known journalist. Certainly there are people (particularly publicists, marketers, and PR firms) who would pay for this kind of access, but it also raises some nasty ethical questions aound journalistic access going to the highest bidder.

    3) Micropayments: The notion that people would be willing to pay small amounts (a few cents) for a good piece of journalism. The idea here is that good news takes $ to produce and and that people will actually pay for top quality reporting. My sense is that while it is true in theory, we are already too far down the “information is free” road to make this a viable and sustainable model in and of itself. Perhaps the more important questions are how much are people willing to pay (ifn anything) and what is a simple enough distribution/payment mechanism that could effectively put this model into play?

    4) Joint Subscriptions: The notion being that large and small news outlets combine forces and offer a kind of a la carte menu of options that add greater value than the current walled garden model. This could either involve the “packaged subscriptions” where you get 2 or more news offerings at a discounted price, or the recombination of selected large and small news/media into a single offering (i.e., The New York Times international business section +My local news/sports). I sense there might be an appetite for the latter, as online news custom aggregators like DailyMe and Netvibes suggest, but getting various outlets to collaborate and share revenue could be a beastly undertaking.


    5) Small is Beautiful. A number of local, community-driven models at the 30,000 residents level seem to be working here. Look at Village Soup and Paulding.com. There are also a number of local community building experiments that go beyond local news aggregation, small business advertising, discussion forums and community portals to offer social networking and community reporting – like www.everyblock.com, www.i-neighbors.org, and SocialChord. One interesting idea that was floated (does anyone have an example?) was the notion of small communities of geography or interest banding together to fund particular reporting and specific stories – a sort of community underwriter news model. I believe David Cohn of NewsTrust is cooking up a marketplace model along these lines.

    6) The convergence of journalism and “do gooderism”. Some wondered out loud if people would be willing to subscribe to a news outlet if it is taking on a particular community service project like a neighborhood cleanup or supporting a particular local/global cause? This is simply applying corporate social responsibility and the “good by association” model to news. Not sure if anyone has successfully attempted this?

    7) Non-financial exchange models: The idea here is news organizations creating a different kind of currency besides $ for their services – like getting free or discounted news access/subscription in exchange for donating time or offering a particular service to the community or the news outlet itself. While I am skeptical that this model would get much traction (not to mention it sounds challenging to organize and denominate) businesses might be willing to sponsor volunteers and pay for their news access as part of a corporate social responsibility campaign. Anyone have any examples of this one?

    8)Information and journalism is FREE. Isn’t it already if you have a computer and Internet connection? Enough said…

    9) Benefactorism: Similar to the notion of community of interest supported news mentioned above, this involves individuals or organizations (outside of the news media, public broadcasting, etc.) funding a particular news item, reporter, or project. Isn’t this already happening too?

    10) The single journalist (or small group of journalists) as news outlet. The idea here, leveraging the free and easy distribution network of Web 2.0, is to avoid large and bloated news bureaucracies in favor of disaggregated journalists that work and distribute on their own. Isn’t this what we call blogging? I guess the real question is whether or not a journalist or small grouping of them can earn a living off of this type of Go-it-your-own-way or Union of hotshot journalists model? Google Adwords won’t put your kids through college, so why not try…

    11) The eBay model: I heard this idea raised a number of times in varying formats, that you can create a market that matches reporters with distribution outlets. See Reporterist as one example. Again, I wonder if anyone can make a living off of it (assuming you want to)…and how one determines who qualifies as a reporter? Also wonder if this type of model ends up pushing compensation for reporting below “fair market value”?

    12) National consortium/union of local news organizations, dailies, etc. : With the relative stability of local dailies and the rise of citizen journalism, some suggested the time is right for a large, representive organization that could provide a better array of support and credentialing for small journalism. Such ideas as pooled advertising distribution (along the lines of Federated Media or Adify) were part of this discussion.

    Lots of interesting ideas and models discussed, along with some wonderfully creative approaches. Just wish there were more hard-core entrepreneurs present to take a steely-eyed look at these and other business models. I also missed hearing the voices of youth and the next generation of media creators/consumers. The latter, in particular, need to be a more integral part of the conversation moving forward.

    Tagged: business models media NewsTools2008
    • Paul
      You are correct – I’m working on it and will have more details soon, I hope.

      This is a fantastic post by the way. re: Reporterist – I would be facing the same problem of “how do you determine who a ‘journalist’ is.

      It’s something I’ve been struggling with. But since we both live in the bay – perhaps we can meet up sometime in the future and talk about it.

    • Thanks for the report back, Paul!

      Journalism That Matters Silicon Valley aka NewsTools2008 was simply an amazing conference/camp for connecting with people trying to make the world better by making the news industry work better.

      As I’ve always felt society has been poorly served by our present media I’ve never thought so much about saving the old, just about how we can make something better. However, the sheer magnitude of the bundled, advertising-driven news industry we are losing finally has sunk in. It’s a little scary.

      I think a lot of breaking news reporting we can do ourselves.

      There’s still a chance for journalism-minded organizations to pioneer new forms of ad revenue and partnering with service providers, especially on the local level.

      And David Cohn’s sponsor-a-journalist model for covering specific stories (and ultimately beats) could make investigative journalism, from local to international, something good reporters can make a living at freelance.

    • Benjamin: Well said, and I also am really intrigued by David Cohn’s idea. I think it is something that could work and has real value for addressing quality and community-driven journalism, both.

    • Paul,
      Great roundup of ideas here! I really enjoyed the NewsTools conference and it was great to see so many Idea Lab bloggers there. We should have all met up and I’m sorry I didn’t get to say hi to you, Paul.

      You can read my thoughts on the conference over at MediaShift:

    • Hi Paul:

      Thanks for the mention of Paulding.com.

      I agree that small is beautiful.

      I do think that social networking is a natural by-product of discussion forums and hyper-local focus.

      You’d also be interested to know that I’ve got a neighborhood program in the offing that features several of the aspects of the everyblock routine … all within the context of the forums.

      One thing I do know is that when folks interact in a forum and they all live in a geographically concise area, it is inevitable they will socialize.

      For instance, one of my commerce members who runs a Tex-Mex hole-in-the-wall restaurant on the square, came to me on May 1 wanting a banner for a Cinco De Mayo night on Monday night. He doesn’t normally open on Monday’s but my ad gal hyped it a little, said we’d be there and we had at least 80 people come down for the ‘event’ in an adhoc meet and greet. (He had a big night.)

      As far as the community of interest coming together to fund a beat reporter, Leonard Witt (pjnet.org) recently got a grant to do that.

      Len, whom I’ve known since the Blog Nashville event in 2005, and I discussed this very proposition at the JTM conference in Washington DC last August. Len teaches at Kennesaw State University about 15 miles from Paulding and he made a similar pitch for the second round of the Newschallenge for that project that would have involved Paulding.com. He did find another funder.

      Anyway, when I was in DC I told Len that we ought to just do it … try it … and indeed, I’m game for someone to try it in the open marketplace that is Paulding.com. I just need a person with the guts to go out an try it.

    • Dan Schultz

      Money is a fickle thing… I’m worried that sponsoring a journalist would result in big business paying for the coverage of what they want covered. How can the poor guy living with radiation in his back yard get coverage for that if all the journalists are doing Mr. Money’s bidding and pushing attention elsewhere?

      It’s a public service and should not be dictated by money.

    • G Patton: that’s an example of the online/offline interactions relative to your Cinco de Mayo extravaganza.

      BTW, have you heard of the Flying Pickle in New Zealand? They have a REALLY interesting small community journalism model where they start with a community produced blog that is eventually turned into and distributed as a print edition. Here is some more on it at

      Dan: Sure, big money/businesss can come in and fund beat reporters for “community of interest” stories more readily than the less resourced folks, but having the opportunity for people to pool money to hire quality journalists (and their network of followers) also provides the less well resourced folks with a leverage point than they might not otherwise have. And in an (ideally) distributed world where squeaky wheels can sometimes get as much grease as the well bankrolled ones, better to have this option than not IMHO.

    • I still haven’t given up on the good old-fashioned, ad-supported publishing business.

      I don’t think the “vertically integrated” model (same company creates the journalism, sells the ads and distributes the content) is going to migrate to the Web. But I think there is great promise for online advertising as targeting becomes more precise. Over time, I think the advertising model will support the creation of many kinds of great journalism.

      I also hope this proves to be true. I’m enough of a capitalist to believe that if there’s a business model to support great journalism, more great journalism will be created.

      If we rely on nonprofits, donations, etc., I think the future of journalism is dim.

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