There was clearly a very interesting discussion to be had at Jeff’s latest CUNY gathering; in particular, the one about starting from scratch…
‘So I proposed a problem to solve: What if a city, say Philadelphia, loses its paper tomorrow. What would you build in its place to serve the community? The group went to town. Rather than trying to hack at the old, they build something new.
‘They calculated the likely revenue Philadelphia could support online and then figured out what they could afford in staffing. Instead of the 200-300-person newsroom that has existed in print, they decided they could afford 35…’
To cut a hugely long story short, we’ve had to do much the same of late; to sit down and work out just what, exactly, the economics of the web will allow you to support; what bits of an old-fashioned, old media model you could cling to; what you had to ditch when you were, indeed, down to your last pennies.
You can’t help but wonder whether or not the same approach might work elsewhere; particularly on the back of the thoughts of Mark Potts’ pal Marc Andreesen and his ‘radical’ advice for The New York Times.
In particular, that startling opening gambit…
If you were running the New York Times, what would you do?
Shut off the print edition right now. You’ve got to play offense…
Working on the reasonable assumption that no UK-based regional – or, indeed, national – newspaper is quite at that point yet, there is equally reason to think that simply hunkering down into the Fort Dunlops of this world might not, in the longer run, prove the answer.
That this current nuclear winter economy-wise might actually prove to be of such length and depth that adopting – in Andreesen’s eyes – such a ‘defense’ might do little more than delay the inevitable.
But if going on the ‘offense’ right now and reaching for the light-switch at print plants across the country is not an option, where’s the half-way house?
How would starting from a blank piece of paper work if print – for now – had to survive?
Clearly each and everyone of us have commitments that cannot be avoided; historic positions that we have to cover – be it debt-wise, pension pot-wise, whatever… There will be a bottom line; a fixed cost base from which you cannot practically move. That’s fine.
But let’s say that both making a profit and delivering your shareholders a dividend are suddenly a moveable feast; they are off the table. Staying afloat is the number one aim. So we forget both.
Thereafter, however, and everything is in the pot. In theory, we are still producing a printed product – and servicing both pension fund and debt.
Such costs covered, where – exactly – would you spend the first £250 of any advertising you still drive through your newspaper?
On your monthly web-hosting bill, yes..?
No web presence and your print ‘brand’ will die; be it by 2012, 2015, 2017 or whenever. If you can’t crack that web nut and don’t somehow sustain a presence on the Internet, then your goose is cooked.
That’s where that first £250 of ‘above the line’ revenue has to go… hosting.
And the next £250?
To fund a part-time local ‘reporter’ who moderates, curates, gathers and co-ordinates a whole series of local, web-based conversations the best of which you then ‘reverse publish’ back into your print product?
Or do we continue to staff our Westminster office? Have a Parliamentary correspondent?
Do we still pay £50 per restaurant review? Or do we encourage our community of readers to have a conversation about where they ate last night… do we ‘listen in’ to their opinion on the new Indian at the end of the High Street? Or do we shove our own opinion down their throats… and cough £50 in the process.
These are big and fundamental questions; this is ripping up 250-odd years of journalistic history and practice – and me biting off the hand that, in previous better times, used to feed me and the Mrs once or more a month.
But, for me, this is where we are all at right now – or at least, should be. Questioning each and every ‘norm’ of our behaviour. Am I the only person in this town with an opinion on that film? Am I the only person that owns a digital camera? Am I the only person that goes to watch a Norwich City home game? Am I the only person that walks the corridors of Westminster…
What you can no longer afford to do best – indeed, can no longer afford to do at all – don’t do…
Link to someone that can.
It might not be the pure offense that Potts’ pal is advocating; but is going to ‘defense’ the only answer? Do we not have to take at least one step forward into this brave new world and link to the people who can afford to do what we increasingly can’t?