Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Future Of Journalism: The Domino Effect.

TRADITIONAL MEDIA may be struggling but there is energy among content producers here in Philadelphia. There are a lot of people doing really cool stuff.

Today, the William Penn Foundation brought together a lot of those folks - established outlets and newbies - to discuss how we might all be able to work together.

Of course, we did not reach a consensus on anything. There was some harping about the 1960's, some ranting about, and a lot of concern about the general public receiving a comprehensive package of information. There was talk of creating a collaborative website that would also generate original reporting, though the reception of that proposal was rather lukewarm.

Overall, the day was enlightening. And it gave me an idea.

Rather than primarily creating a website dedicated to producing original content, I think there should be a website that aggregates content produced in various communities (geographic and thematic). For instance, there are numerous weekly, community newspapers in the city. Most of them have horrible websites that are difficult to search.

An aggregater would provide easy access for people looking for interesting and unusual stories in the city, i.e. the mainstream media.

The mainstream media primarily react to events now because they don't have the staffing to be proactive - sending reporters into various communities to see what is happening. This aggregater site would provide on-the-ground insight, showing the mainstream media that more happens in some neighborhoods than just the murder of the day. Stories could also be purchased and used by the mainstream media, or the mainstream media could do their own follow up investigations.

To complement the aggregater, I propose a quarterly print publication (and web component) that solely does long-form, investigative journalism. The investigative publication would be directed to high end audiences, people in powerful positions, and those who care deeply about public affairs. The investigative product would serve two purposes: 1). to dig into major issues impacting the city/ region and 2). to act as an agenda-setter for the mainstream media.

There would be sidebars next to the long-form pieces that break down the numbers so that sound-byte media can digest and distribute the information quickly and easily.

The idea would be to create a domino effect in the media because one story in one outlet is not enough anymore.

I think the model could be sustainable. The investigative work would be expensive. Some money could be generated through advertising on the aggregater site. Additional revenue would be generated by the quarterly print issue. The investigative content could also be sold to traditional media, or repurposed in other ways.

It would take start up money to get the wheels rolling, as advertisers would probably not invest in an unknown product.

This could be a way of making people care about the important issues that impact citizens' lives.

Just an idea. I'd appreciate any feedback.


  1. One other thought ... this daily aggregator and quarterly investigative project combo would not be a direct competitor to any existing media outlets.

    The idea would be to complement existing media, and to provide much needed resources.

    - Geo

  2. I'd be the first to build a local aggregator feed into my startup page.

  3. I like the idea George. If there's one thing The Next Mayor (and as primitive as it now looks from the vantage of 2010 - not a knock on the design just a comment on how far the turnkey technology has come) showed me it's that "smart" aggregation - not just algorithm based - can work on the local level. It may not have gotten a ton of traffic throughout its run but it was at least a place where candidates knew that if some unflattering item about them in any little blog or news outlet existed, it would show up there. At the very least, if the opinion makers themselves are in the audience, it could keep them honest. Something I fear won't happen if the local mainstream press continues to shrink.

  4. I think what you're proposing would certainly be valuable, but I have concerns that it couldn't be independently sustainable. Further, why don't already established organizations provide that aggregation? Why create another place to curate news that's being created?

    We have the tools to follow news—RSS, email subscriptions, whatever method you prefer. If anything, journalists need better training on how to follow, aggregate, and deduce from already available news resources what needs more in-depth reporting.

    There's been a lot of conversation about how many local stories are being printed today in metro dailies:

    Philebrity's often mentioned the echo chamber of Philly's local news:

    So how much is actually being originally reported? How much could be curated in already established publications?

    And in the case of your story on Metropolis (Philly Weekly, and aggregated elsewhere), what needs to be thought about is how to extend the reach of that story thoughtfully, and if necessary, better enable more in-depth reporting opportunities.

  5. My concern is definitely the in-depth stuff. That is the primary function of my proposal. But the beast (the Internet) needs to be fed often - almost constantly - if it is to be relevant and popular. That's where the aggregater stuff fits in.

    The aggregate would be cheap and easy, and it would send traffic to the smaller sites. The aggregate could generate revenue. It would do a public service.

    Think about ProPublica. They do amazing investigative work. But they need to constantly update their website so that people don't forget about them. And the stuff that goes up on their website often doesn't live up to the standards of their investigative work.

    I love the idea of a million flowers sprouting all over the place. I really, really do. But they only have impact if people see and hear them.

    I'm not hoping to create greater redundancy. I'm hoping to create a a process by which stories get vetted, built upon and further investigated as needed.

    Plus, the investigative mag should exist anyway, like an Economist strictly covering Philadelphia. I would LOVE that.