No, We Didn't Save* Journalism, But We Did Generate A Lot Of Ideas
from the not-saved-yet... dept
Last week, as you may have heard, we held out Techdirt Saves* Journalism event. It was actually quite a lot of fun, even if we didn’t “save” journalism. JD Lasica, for PBS’s MediaShift, wrote up a fantastic set of takeaways from the event, which I’ll list out here, though you can read his full writeup for the details:
- Mine the data
- Elevate your writers
- Create a platform for your community
- Multiple revenue streams
- Expand the brand
- Changing ideas about “news”
This is a really great list — and JD gets all the credit in the world for distilling that out of all the brainstorming that went on. And that really was the point. While we did have three short presentations at the beginning, the meat of the event was the separate breakouts that we had. Lots of people asked us to stream the event live, but given the nature of the event that wasn’t really possible. There were five different workshops going on that were much smaller groups of folks trying to brainstorm new and different ideas.
The point of the event, of course, was never to save journalism. It was just to get people brainstorming about creative ideas. It brought together a variety of people from different backgrounds. There were plenty of journalists (of course), from an AP bureau chief to successful “citizen journalists” and everything in-between. There were technologists, marketers, PR people, consultants and lawyers — startup people and big company people — all mixed together. And that’s part of what made it work so well. It wasn’t just a bunch of newspaper people trying to brainstorm, but a wide variety of folks coming at it from varying perspectives. The amount of positive feedback we got from folks leaving the event was really astounding, with multiple requests to do more events like this (and even a few requests with specific ideas for what — or who — to “save*” next).
What struck me most about the event was how different groups came up with ideas that I’d never even thought about before. I don’t think all of them would even work, but there was some really creative thinking going on. For example, there was at least one discussion about whether or not newspapers could use their existing delivery infrastructure for more than just delivering newspapers. I’m not sure how that would work out in reality — but it did show an attempt to take what might be considered a liability and see if there was any way to turn it into an asset.
Another group discussed how a newspaper might be better off acting more as a “talent agency” for writers, building up some brand recognition around the writers themselves. Again, this might only work in certain circumstances, but it was a different kind of suggestion.
One group wondered why newspapers haven’t been embracing new local advertising models, such as the massive success around GroupOn (the locally-focused mass purchasing discount offering service). Amusingly, the very next day after the event, the San Francisco Chronicle announced exactly that. However, I’m not sure that they’re doing it right. During the discussion on services like GroupOn, one participant pointed out that one of the reasons why GroupOn works so well is that it’s actually creating compelling content within the “ads” themself (i.e., going back to the whole advertising is content; content is advertising concept). But the SF Gate’s GroupOn clone seems to have incredibly boring copywriting. This is really quite stunning when you think about it. These local newspapers should be able to blow the likes of GroupOn out of the water: they have good content creators on staff, as well as better connections with local merchants, and a brand name that people recognize. But, at least initially, it looks like they’re phoning it in.
One of the groups decided to use the magazine Harper’s as a case study, and when one of the participants mentioned this on Twitter, the folks at Harper’s actually asked about what they discussed, and Rick Klau then wrote up a blog post describing what their group came up with. Again, the idea clearly wasn’t to literally “save” Harper’s in the one brainstorming session alone, but to use it as a thought exercise, and get people thinking — which it clearly did.
All in all, it seemed like the “thought-provoking-idea” per hour quotient was extremely high. As I said, I’m sure plenty of the ideas wouldn’t necessarily make sense, but the fun thing about the event was we quickly got past the typical answers of “put up a paywall!” and got down to thinking creatively very, very quickly, including quite a few ideas that are certainly worth exploring further. For example, as a group, we ended up having a long discussion about whether or not there was commercial potential in some of the knowledge reporters had that could be effectively used as a research report, of sorts. There were certainly concerns about the trust issues related to this, but others also had some ideas on how to mitigate the trust concerns.
On the “constructive criticism” side, some people felt that too much of the discussion did end up focusing on how to save legacy publications. I can take some of the blame here, as one of the brainstorming guidelines suggested picking “a publication.” I did say this wasn’t a necessary step (and not every group did, in fact, pick a specific publication), but I also probably should have made it clear that this didn’t need to be a legacy or paper publication, since it seemed like all of the groups who picked a publication ended up focusing on paper publications. It might have been better/more interesting to also have people looking at newer online publications (though, in fairness, most of the discussions did focus on ways to bring those old publications more into the online world). Something to keep in mind for future events.
I did want to thank all of the attendees for coming out and participating. Part of the point I made early on is that this wasn’t a lecture or a seminar or anything like that. It was a brainstorming session, and we expected everyone to participate — and, for the most part, every group that I spent time with seemed to make sure that everyone was, in fact, participating. So, special thanks again for so many smart people showing up and taking part. Also, special thanks to Hal Varian, Google chief economist, and Ian Rogers, Topspin’s CEO, for getting everyone’s creative juices flowing with their presentations, both of which fit together nicely, digging into some of the data from the news consumption world first, followed by a different perspective on some of the data coming out of the music world. The combined presentations really helped set the table for the brainstorming that followed. Hal and Ian also were great at bouncing around from group to group to take part in those discussions as well. Also, a special thanks to the team at Google who helped coordinate on their end.
As mentioned, a bunch of folks asked us about future events (and one told us this was more fun and more valuable than a huge mutli-million dollar “save journalism” event he had been to previously), so we’ll definitely be looking to do future events like this one. We’re certainly open to ideas (and, obviously, other potential sponsors/hosts). Thanks again to everyone who participated.