Volunteer to use craigslist to save community journalism

Craig Newmark has said, ” … there’s no substitute for professional writing, no substitute for professional editing, and no substitute for professional fact checking …”

He’s been public about his appreciation for journalism in a number of ways, and in fact he’s invested in things like New Assignment.

Many people seem to think Newmark’s craigslist is destroying journalism as we’ve known it. I’ve been critical of this notion, but there’s no doubt that craiglist is one of the disruptors hurting the newspaper business.

Earlier I responded to Scott Karp’s call to save newspaper journalism (not necessarily newspapers) through volunteerism.

In later reading over the comments to Scott’s original post, a notion struck me: Why not use volunteerism through craigslist to promote the value of newspaper websites?

Surely, Craig wouldn’t object. Newspapers have traditionally been the glue that binds communities together. They are valuable institutions that do important civic work. Given Craig’s pronounements on the value of community journalism, a grassroots campaign to promote the good things on newspapers’ websites would be something he would applaud, right?

Now, technically, linking out to a “commercial” web site is a violation of the TOS, but given posts on craigslist like this, this and this, that doesn’t seem to bother Craig or his staff too much.

In that spirit, I posted a little something that Bakersfield.com is doing as a valuable community service: a mash up to report potholes.

Note the example here: Not a general, “hey, this web site is great,” but a specific service that fits within craigslist’s sense of community value.

So, if you value local community journalism, go find something on your local newspaper.com and post a bulletin about it on your local craigslist. Support your local community.

Newspapers should not expect readers to save them

There’s a notion among many newsroom people that, “Damn it, what we do is valuable and important and people should pay for it.” Of course, I’ve argued, free markets don’t work that way. If people don’t perceive the value, they won’t give you money just because you have a high opinion of yourself.

This morning, Scott Karp is suggesting that newspapers need to in fact throw themselves on the mercy of their readers and say, “Donate to the cause.”

Imagine that you decided to post your classified listing with your local newspaper rather than with Craigslist because you knew it would support the work of local journalists who help make your locality a better place. AND, imagine, you also chose the local newspaper listing because you knew knew that your listing would be more likely to reach civic-minded people like yourself. Imagine how much more (smugly) satisfying would be to conduct your personal commerce in such a community

My question is: Will people donate their paid classifieds to a business that maintains 20 percent profit margins? And then there is that whole love/hate thing people have with media. There is also the issue of declining readership, especially among young people.

Just who will the donors be? Probably the same people who already see the value of newspapers and because of that perceived value, buy ads now.

Besides, I’m not a big fan of newspaper companies begging for hand outs. Either we have to figure out how to better serve our communities and operate more effectively as digital businesses, or we don’t deserve the community’s support.

Much of Karp’s thesis though is based on a faulty premise: That craigslist is killing the newspaper classified business.

As I’ve written before, there are many efficiencies in digital distribution that are cutting into the newspaper classified business, but to declare victory for craigslist or any other classified competitor is a gross overstatement.

While Karp might be right that newspapers have not done a good job of marketing their value to the community, I think we’ve also done a poor job of explaining just how effective newspaper classifieds are, especially when those ads are also put online. In most communities — with the possible exception of San Francisco — a newspaper classified ad is still the most effective way to advertise a job opening, a house for rent or a car for sale.

Of course, newspaper classifieds are vulnerable to disruption because of the high price, but it’s also true that most of the ads going to competitors like craigslist are ads that traditional newspapers never would have gotten in the first place. Criagslist is much more of a threat to alt-weeklies than MSM dailies.

Newspaper classified revenue is dropping not because of craigslist, but because of the bevy of new choices. Not all of the online alternatives are free, but they are often less expensive. That hurts, but the main point is: Newspapers have lost their monopoly. That’s the biggest change brought on by digital, distributed media.

Newspapers have not necessarily been good at recognizing nor adopting to the new reality, but I agree with Karp that Phil Bronstein statement that “the news business ‘is broken, and no one knows how to fix it.’ (‘And if any other paper says they do, they’re lying.’)” shows a complete lack of imagination. I doubt any of my colleagues who have been toiling in newspaper new media departments for the past decade or so agree with that statement. I think the answers are all out there. It’s just that no one newspaper has yet put all the pieces together yet, and that’s largely the fault of companies that felt it more important to donate online profits to corporate bottom lines rather than reinvest that revenue in staff and products to grow the business.

We need to get our own house in order before we start asking for outside help.

UPDATE: From a somewhat different starting point, Howard Weaver makes relatively similar points. Rather than quote any part of it, just go read the whole thing.

UPDATE II: Also read Kyle Redinger on why newspapers are not dead.  More facts, less rhetoric.

Get out of the content business; become the platform

As content increasingly becomes a commodity, and is unbundled from traditional packaging, former content providers need to become platform providers, according to John Hagel.

From my experience, if you want to transition from a content business to customer relationship business in the media industry, you need to start focusing on content platforms. In a traditional content business, you rely on professionals to deliver content that is meant to be experienced exactly as produced. Content platforms still rely on professionals, but the role of professionals in a platform business is to catalyze further contributions by a growing range of third parties, including audience members. A platform is meant to be built on and will rapidly evolve over time. A product, once produced, never changes.

As I have written before:

Products are designed to be used on a standalone basis – you buy it and you view it or listen to it in the specific way the content creator intended. Platforms are designed to be built upon – they create opportunities for the original creator, third parties or the customers themselves to extend, enhance and tailor the content in ways that the original creator never anticipated. Offered as a platform, content can create far more value than any equivalent standalone product.

The web might actually be a good thing for news

Good post from Howard Weaver.

The crushing “destructive technology� change for the music business came when it became possible to buy (or steal) a single song rather than pay $17 for a CD filled with other music you didn’t want.

The biggest “destructive technology� change for newspapers is the fact that websites can be refreshed constantly while printed papers get updated once a day.

Cathy Seipp tops Technorati searches

At a party a few years ago, when I first met her, Cathy Seipp explained to me that she refused to start a blog because she didn’t want to give her work away for free. She made her living as a writer, and the idea of putting her well crafted prose onto a blog that generated no revenue seemed like a bad idea.

I suggested that to her that there were any number of things she could write about that wouldn’t infringe on her paid work, and such a blog would help spread her fame. She would make more money, I suggested, if she blogged.

Eventually, she did start a blog.

For more than three days now, since her death on Wednesday, “Cathy Seipp” has been the #1 search term on Technoriti. Right now, she’s bigger than MySpace, YouTube, Twitter or Paris Hilton.

That’s a fine tribute for a blogger.

UPDATE: There’s pictures of Cathy here and here. I should also note that I’m sure Matt Welch was a much bigger influence than me in getting Cathy to blog. Matt has photos here. And looking back on my posts, I was obviously wrong that she needed to switch to MoveableType and get her own domain.

Imagine a world wide web without search

Did Google buy YouTube as a defensive strategy, knowing that it might get sued, but that such a suit might prove essential to its survival?

But the third point is the most important for Google. If YouTube were to lose a lawsuit for hosting intellectual property, it would severely weaken Google’s position in a variety of current and future endeavors. Any aspirations Google has of some day crawling and indexing video content (nope, they don’t have this technology yet) would now be in a legal limbo. It would also potentially re-introduce new arguments against their Google Image Search. And their book search program might suffer a similar fate once the YouTube precedent settles in. Google, being a company that spiders and indexes (stores) massive amounts of copyrighted information, would now be in serious legal jeopardy.

Think about how the web would change without search.

If courts were ever to decide that Google’s massive databases of stored content were a violation of copyright (even though what they actually serve up as a result set is just a slice of whats stored), then search as we know it would disappear. The net as we know it would be radically different. It would be a lot harder to find and share information. We would still have hyperlinks, and that’s important to the network economy, but search is what makes the web efficient.

(via John Battelle)