Reimagining the journalism marketplace – finding new ways to serve information consumers

American journalism today is in crisis because it has not adapted financially to digital media, yet I believe we could turn this crisis into an opportunity to make significant improvements in the industry. Journalists and entrepreneurs are searching for business models that would generate revenue to help support high-quality digital media. No matter what forms they take, the newly emerged media products always should be consumer oriented. That is, the products should either meet new, unsatisfied consumer demands, or help reduce the costs of existing products or services in the market. Specially designed online educational clubs could help provide a new and effective alternative for which many consumers would be willing to pay. There is great social value in these clubs that would help draw support from outside the journalism field as well. The project could be implemented in three steps.

First: Foreign Language Enhancement

Journalists should start by investigating ways to combine traditional studies of foreign language with news delivery to make the learning process more interesting and cost-effective. The project is meant to establish an online portal for interested consumers to learn about different cultures, languages, and international news of current relevance. This site could also be used as a complementary tool for international affairs, world geography, or other international fields of study. An emphasis on music, video, and other modern multi-media technologies would help make the learning process more interesting and diversified.

The goal at this stage is to attract paid institutional group subscriptions. These, in turn, may help attract individual and business subscriptions. Paying small fees for an online collection of existing news stories and documentations would likely help reduce the cost of labor-intensive teaching methods. In addition to accurate, in-depth, and up-to-date foreign news stories, current computer technologies would allow student consumers at different learning levels or with different career focuses to practice particular languages of their choice. The clubs also would focus on learning a language as a way to learn the values and wisdom of different cultures, to learn how other peoples make their decisions and live their lives, and to learn how they solve their problems. Therefore, these bilingual clubs potentially would provide attractive learning tools for many consumers.

Second: Global Inspiration

After the foreign language clubs are well-established at the first stage, the project would then be expanded to include clubs with a more general educational focus. These online learning clubs would offer users broad access to a large selection of cultural and professional content in English from the bilingual club archives, as well as from English language newspapers. The goal of the educational clubs is to help consumers benefit from understanding the problem-solving wisdom of other cultures, a skill that many bilingual or multilingual workers have, without having to learn a foreign language. Ideally, the realization of this goal would help save a great deal of effort in terms of time and money invested in foreign language studies.

News stories would target ordinary citizens with a high school education, rather than a highly specialized audience. Journalists are trained to simplify complicated incidents or concepts into interesting and fresh stories. This type of technique would be very helpful for attracting students who are not fully motivated by traditional academic teaching methods. Therefore, these learning clubs would likely possess strong market values since the clubs would help enrich consumers’ lives by providing inexpensive and diversified alternatives to improve their knowledge and job skills.

Journalists and editors managing these online clubs should be trained in both journalism and a specific academic field. Writers who have both interest and knowledge in a particular field will be more successful at finding and creating vivid news stories for consumers with similar interests.
One crucial step for this second stage would be to organize existing resources from the journalism field and to coordinate newspapers and freelance journalists to contribute content. Contributors would be compensated for the use of their articles. Ideally, the fees paid to journalists and newspapers by the clubs would help support and encourage high-quality journalism.

Third: Bridging the Gaps

At this stage, the website would bring together journalists, experts, and consumers, and provide a platform for exploring solutions to important issues. For example, the clubs might have been able to have organized ways to help Japan deal with the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and the following tsunami and nuclear crisis in March 2011. The clubs can help bridge the gap between local communities with specific information and international organizations that could provide support. Since the clubs would have access to local news about recent developments as well as to professionals who have specialized knowledge in various fields, they would be able to facilitate bringing together these resources.

Another interesting project would be to investigate how the learning clubs could best serve students who do not perform well with traditional theory-intensive learning methods, as well as adult workers who are transitioning careers. The goal would be to examine whether these online clubs can help organizations (for example, workforce training or adult education programs) to reduce costs by providing access to more efficient and up-to-date educational methods.

At this point, the function of the clubs would be to complement news organizations or investigative journalists to better attract government funding or grants from foundations, corporations, and communities.


Instead of trying to find an investor to fund the entire project, our plan is to break it down into three manageable stages and attract funding for each stage individually. At the end of each stage, there would be concrete benefits for users. To summarize these benefits, consumers would first gain access to better tools for learning foreign languages and cultures. During the second stage, people would be able to save money on expensive education and career training. Finally, communities would be able to search for experts who are interested and qualified to help with local problems or crises. This media product would benefit both consumers and journalists. The market is ripe for this kind of innovation. Yet, the most difficult part of the whole project may be getting the public to recognize its potential market value and social benefits.

For more information, please read my previous article entitled “A New Approach for Profitable Foreign News Reporting.” I always wish to find an opportunity to thank Prof. Dan Gillmor properly. I greatly appreciate his help and support regarding this project.

About Ying Zhang

Ying Zhang graduated from the University of Colorado in 2003 with a B.A. degree in Economics.