Hunt for a new media business model: The radical is no longer so radical

Thursday’s conference in New York on New Business Models for News reminded me of an adage I used to read in The Des Moines Register: “There is no solution. Seek it lovingly.”

As you’d expect, the gathering at CUNY’s journalism school produced no Eureka! moment that announced itself as the solution for what ails most media companies. (As if on cue, newspaper companies were reporting third-quarter earnings declines of 16-19 percent throught the week.)

There was some news on the seek-it-lovingly front, however. Our host, the dynamic Jeff Jarvis, said the meeting of about 100 new and old-media folks marked significant progress because there were no head-in-the-sand protests from mainstream veterans about the need for a new business model. Nobody flinched even at prescriptions like getting rid of editors, dumping the story forum, or banishing newsrooms. (I don’t mean everyone agreed with those ideas. But comfortable with the idea of radical change? Clearly.)

My “no-solution” adage works in another respect. There probably won’t be A solution. There will be solutions. Maybe one will come from Samir Arora, CEO of Glam, whose only slide was a world map turned upside down and who described how networks, not content, could be the new king. Maybe it’s David Cohn and his vision of journalism paid directly by citizen-assigning editors. Maybe it’s Adam Bly, who’s showing a new version of how print (“Seed” magazine) and Internet ( can feed off each other in the world of science. In coming weeks I’ll be looking at some of these startups as well as others.

But next Monday in OJR I’ll start a weeklong look at another proposed solution: online-only community news sites like MinnPost and The Voice of San Diego. I’m probably attracted to this ilk of startup because it mostly resembles what I’m used to — a news organization that reports on a wide swath of community issues and interests. Some people think this something-for-everyone approach won’t survive the Web’s imperative of fragmentation, and/or won’t compete with the intensity that comes when committed participants, as opposed to dispassionate observers, are the ones telling the story. But for now, whether it’s a two-person shop at Batavia, N.Y., or a larger operation at St. Louis, these sites (some nonprofits, some for-profits) are growing in numbers and audience.

The players here are so vast that I’ll pick off only a slice of them. But this is interesting territory — a bunch of journalists, many of them former mainstreamers, trying to create community news beachheads online. I’ll be interested to hear your reaction and learn new examples of how these sites are faring.

About David Westphal

After almost four decades in newspapering, I've made the jump to academia at USC's Annenberg Journalism School in Los Angeles. I hope to use my recent experience as head of McClatchy's Washington Bureau to write about the revolution that's taking place in journalism -- and in particular to study new-media business models. I'm a senior fellow at Annenberg's Center on Communication Leadership and Policy, and also affiliated with the Knight Digital Media Center.


  1. says:

    When for-profit publicly-held media companies don’t produce high profit margins — it may be time for media to pursue a nonprofit business model. And thanks for sharing the news of MinnPost. For those of us in the Twin Cities — this exciting online publication, staffed by excellent journalists — is well worth reading and investing in.