The Future of Newspapers is in YOUR hands

Given the stramash (a Scottish word, definition here…) of things that have cropped up in the last few weeks on The Future of Newspapers, I thought it’d be good to collate and share a few here.

Especially since, it turns out, it’s not newspapers who will determine their own future, but us, the readers… read on to see what I mean.

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First up, Clay Shirky wrote a piece called ‘Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable’ which is a great, thought provoking read…

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I’ve copied the first couple of paragraphs to get you interested…

“Back in 1993, the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain began investigating piracy of Dave Barry’s popular column, which was published by the Miami Herald and syndicated widely. In the course of tracking down the sources of unlicensed distribution, they found many things, including the copying of his column to alt.fan.dave_barry on usenet; a 2000-person strong mailing list also reading pirated versions; and a teenager in the Midwest who was doing some of the copying himself, because he loved Barry’s work so much he wanted everybody to be able to read it.

One of the people I was hanging around with online back then was Gordy Thompson, who managed internet services at the New York Times. I remember Thompson saying something to the effect of “When a 14 year old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem.” I think about that conversation a lot these days…”

Anyway, go read the whole thing here, it’s brilliant.  It concludes that what we, as a society, need journalism. 

It used to be that newspapers were the best business model to deliver journalism.  Now that this is not the case, there is a real need to create a new business model that works.

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So where are these new business models going to come from?

Well, The Guardian have very recently launched what they call Open Platform, a service which will (as Emily Bell put it) allow Guardian content “to be woven into the fabric of the internet”. 

[disclosure – we work with The Guardian].

Open Platform is basically two things:

The first is an API (application programme interface) which will allow people to take any Guardian content they wish from the site, and interweave it with anything they wish to create. 

So, for instance, say you ran a Hamilton Academicals fan site…

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You could take the Guardian content stream, filter it for articles and reports on the team, and stream relevant Guardian content onto your site, in exchange for carrying Guardian advertising.

The second part of Open Platform is the Data Store, which basically frees up all of the Guardian-curated stats and figures that they use, and have used, in the newspaper and online, and allows you to take that data and create something with it.

Going back to the Hamilton Academicals example, you might wish to create something that correlates the Accies performance with the unemployment rate over the years (yes, I know, I’m stretching the point a little…).  The Data Store will give you easy access to all of the necessary data.

What’s interesting here for the Guardian is that they are responding to the increasing desire amongst people to gather around ‘niche’ communities of interest.  They’re letting the people themselves decide how best to use the Guardian’s content.

How can this help secure the future of newspapers?

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To help answer that question, I’ll refer you to something found this yesterday on David Cushman’s blog, which is an interview with Dr Chris Thorpe who consulted on the Guardian’s Open Platform:

As he says, “what [The Guardian] really want people to do is invent new business models [based] on our content, and we’ll then partake in those business models with them”.

It’s something that we’ve heard people talking a lot of late; crowdsourcing.  Things like Walker’s ‘Do Us A Flavour‘.

By opening up the expertise that they have in a particular area, and allowing people to use their own ingenuity to create new things based on that expertise, both the company and the customers can share in that success. 

The best analogy is perhaps that it’s like a box of Lego; if you’re sitting in a company that’s used to building things in a certain way, you’ll always build the same sort of things. 

If you let other people play with your box of Lego, you’ll be surprised and delighted with what they come up with…

…and quite fittingly, it’s an approach that Lego themselves have taken to heart (which might have something to do with ‘community guy’ Jake McKee):

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So, in conclusion; is this the model that’s going to protect the ‘organs of journalism’ into the future?  By letting folk like you and me not just decide which news to receive, but by creating precisely the news we wish to re-transmit too? 

It’s too early to tell, of course, but it certainly feels like something that’s a lot more fit for purpose in the future… what do you reckon?

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