Polis & BBC Value of Journalism Conference

I’m heading to London on Friday for a conference on the value of journalism organised by Polis and the BBC College of Journalism.

The one-day events coincides with the publication of a new paper from Polis and the London School of Economics – ‘The Value of Networked Journalism’.

According to the organisers, the event will examine the following questions:

– What can new forms of journalism offer the digital society?

– Can blogging, social media and mobile deliver quality, accuracy and universal access?

– What impact will this have on politics and political reporting?

– How will journalism be funded?
It’s a great schedule with some excellent speakers and panelists. In particular I’m looking forward to hearing Janine Gibson (Guardian News & Media), Peter Horrocks (BBC) and Adam Westbrook.
Hoping to tweet on Friday and I’ll post some notes over the weekend … and maybe a video or two. You can follow the event live via the #voj10 hashtag.
Anyone else going? If so, tweet me!
B

Limber up news organisations

Once upon a time the equation for funding a news organisation was a lot more straightforward. Most of the budget came from a combination of advertising (inc classifieds) and either cover price or subscriber fees and sometimes tax-payer’s money.

Things have become more complicated recently. These days organisations, through trial and error, are attempting to come up with new ways to fund journalism.

Today, the new ready-for-a-paywall Times and Sunday Times websites launched. Later this year the New York Times will try out a metered pay model.

However, Silicon Valley Watcher’s Tom Foremski has another less-straighforward suggestion dubbed the ‘Heinz 57’ model, which I think is very interesting.

I’m sometimes asked what the new business model for media will be. My answer is that it will be a “Heinz 57” model. The Heinz food brand often has “57 varieties” in its promotions. And that’s a good metaphor for the emerging media business model.

He highlights the case of Australia’s Fairfax Media, which media consultant Frédéric Filloux looked at in February.

Filloux says Fairfax Digital (the part of Fairfax Media that runs hundreds of publications, websites and more than a dozen radio stations) has ‘no less than 15 revenue streams’ and it has an ‘entire team devoted to strategic advertising’ to react fast to changes and maximise ad money.

Filloux lists seven lessons to take from Fairfax Digital, which he expands in his post.

1. Accept the coming digital domination
2. Focus on reader engagement
3. Be an online company. Period.
4. Bet on multiple business resources
5. Capture readers and users one group after the other
6. Control your advertising innovation
7. Stay awake

The launch of the two News International sites today has put a spotlight on how news is funded and it’s going to be fascinating to see whether it can work. But I think there’s something in what Foremski and Filloux are highlighting.

Organisations must be flexible going forward. There will not be another simple equation, no answer to the 64-million-dollar question. A multiple-revenue model may be more complicated but it would hedge the bets, however organisations, no matter how big or small, need to be limber and able to react fast like Fairfax does.

Lots to think about,

B

Pierre Omidyar’s Honolulu local news site goes live

I’m watching the development of Honolulu Civil Beat with great interest.

Backed by the founder of Ebay, Pierre Omidyar, the online news project was launched earlier this week.

Subscribers will play a key part in the operation, which allows them to discuss issues affecting their communities through a concept called the ‘civil square’ hosted by journalists with different expert areas.

In an article on the site headlined ‘A New Approach to Journalism’, Founding Editor John Temple (formerly of the Rocky Mountain News) explains what it hopes to provide:

We start this news service with the belief that we’re here to serve you. That means our daily work is to ask the important questions citizens might have in the face of the complex issues facing our community. And to answer them in a way that helps members reach an informed opinion, based on our reporting and the discussion that will take place as we together create the new civic square.

You’ll find that our initial coverage is centered around five fundamental beats: Hawaii, Honolulu, Education, Land and Money. For each of these coverage areas, we have identified critical issues – and now that you’re here we hope you’ll help us sharpen our focus.

The monthly fee of $19.99 to use the site is generating the most comment.

Here’s Daily Finance’s take on the pay model:

Skeptics say no one will pay such a princely sum (in Internet terms) to participate in a local journalism site, and a lack of participants could doom the online “civic square” to failure.

But Omidyar’s new startup could be timing the bottom of the paid-content market perfectly. For starters, the subtle reeducation of Web users that not all content is free is well underway. The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times are all on paths to paid content in their online forms. Since these are “must read” publications that drive lots of other news coverage, it’s hard to ignore this trend.

Paidcontent’s view:

If they were aiming for a straight news service, then it makes sense as a business-model decision to let people know from the top that getting a quality product will take their financial support. But a civic-square vision carries a different kind of connotation and a suggestion of more, not less, openness. The implicit suggestion is that only people who pay are worth listening to. That seems to run counter to Omidyar’s description of the richness and diversity of Hawaii and “discussions that involve a diversity of points of view, conducted in a respectful and good-faith search for common ground and meaningful compromise.”

With a billionaire’s backing this project has plenty of room for experimentation, but it will be interesting to see what the people Honolulu make of it!

B