Real Life Local News Revenue Experiments: ONA19 session

Powered by a decade of pursuing local news revenue models, I got together a few friends doing similar work and hosted a session during the 20th annual Online News Association conference, in New Orleans, on Thursday.

The session was called Real Life Local News Revenue Experiments That Aren’t Advertising. Building on a 2016 lightning talk at the same conference, I published an essay a few days before the session to gather related thoughts and spark conversation.

My big takeaway: journalism is a strategy, not an industry. Or put another way, it is an approach to competing in any number of business models. For local journalism to thrive in the future, we need to find and experiment there.

Find notes, slides and more below.

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‘Journalism Thinking’ doesn’t need a business model. It needs a call to arms

I originally posted this on Medium here. It received considerable endorsement, including here, here and here.

Early professional news networks in the 14th and 15th centuries were couriers on horseback, informing warlords and merchants. Even competitors saw the value in shared professional news gathering, when there wasn’t a state-owned alternative. Subscriptions, then, subsidized the first foreign affairs and business reporters.

Over the next 500 years, innovations in distribution and in printing and paper technology shaped professional news-gathering into the 20th century model we most recognize today: advertising revenue subsidized relatively low unit costs to ensure widely available mass media (albeit almost exclusively from a white male perspective, but that needs its own post entirely).

Today we’re well into the first generation of the digital transformation of news-gathering and distribution. Yet we as journalism practitioners are still managing to underestimate how dramatically things have changed.

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Here are a bunch of rules to live by from other people I love

Short, sweet, meaningful rules to live by are a delight.

Last year I shared my own, inspired by the book, and it became a talking point among friends and family for much of the year. I love hearing anyone’s rules; even if I don’t agree with them, they’re telling of that person and a worldview. They make me think.

So, without naming any names, below I share a few sets of rules I heard from others because I just think these are so much fun. I’d love to hear yours too.

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Authenticity is having no other choice

Is that pizza authentic? What about that neighborhood? Or the clothes they’re wearing? Or the slang they’re using?

To my ears, authentic doesn’t mean famous or even necessarily good. Authentic is not having a choice. Or not even being conscious of the choice.

Someone is authentic when they are true to themselves; they haven’t conjured up some sense of self. Rather, they’ve remained more or less true to their experience. A product or service or idea or experience is similar. It’s doing a job without being overly aware of itself.

Authenticity is having no other choice.

A few things I’ve learned and love about whiskey

Whiskey is my alcohol of choice. That’s a preference founded on years and perfectly-me nerdy intention, as you might have read.

For most of the last decade I’ve casually tried to learn more about the culture, stories and experience. Below I share a few concepts that have stood out to me as most interesting.

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Little ways an organizational leader can show her team she cares about them as people

Pay them a competitive salary. Protect against mission and role creep. Give something clear to work toward and a strategy to employ to get there.

As an organizational leader, these are the foundations of developing a healthy relationship with your workforce. I’ve found there are other signs of an empathetic organizational culture that you can develop, without excessive budget needs.

These are examples of ways to show your team that you actually care about them as people. It goes a long way to develop the relationships you need to take on a big challenge, particularly without a pile of money.

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Notes from reading ‘Sapiens,’ a brief history of humankind

Our species, Homo sapiens, first grew powerful by banding together through myth-making. That self-deception is our strength and our curse.

That is something like the thesis of Sapiens, a kind of pop anthropology anthology that has — like all books that generalize heady issues — caught both praise and derision. Written by Yuval Noah Harari, it was first published in Hebrew in Israel in 2011 and in English in 2014. I was gifted a copy by a collaborator of mine, Deborah Diamond and I ready it in a couple weeks. I’m sharing here some of what I got from reading it.

Public intellectuals seem to face a harrowing choice. Either dive deeply into their subject matter to influence their peers but risk their ideas remaining obscure, or focus on translating and synthesizing for a broader audience, and attract scorn from those deeper situated in the academic. Harari is squarely in the latter category, garnering a 2018 New York Times profile focused on the adulation he’s received from tech executives, despite his criticism of their work.

Like a breakout hit in linguistics that I read, I approach these books with neither extreme. I find them fun, discover ideas to dive deeper into and often get inspiration. That was my experience with Harari’s book — even though I found myself ignoring extended passages of his extrapolation. I enjoyed it.

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To get only the ‘right’ words on paper, that’s the struggle: Janet Benton

As a followup to my 2018 podcast The Writing Process, I’m sharing occasional interviews with other celebrated authors, storytellers and other writers to gather their own writing advice.

Below, hear from Janet Benton, whose historical fiction novel Lilli de Jong came out in paperback last year. (Follow her on Twitter here) When her debut novel launched, Bustle called it striking and NPR listed it as one of its books of the year.

The book, known as a poignant look at feminism and motherhood, set in 1883 Philadelphia, is readily available as a hardcover, paperback, large-print edition, audio book and ebook through most booksellers and online.

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Lifetime Learning: listen to my IT Works commencement address

I was proud and charmed to be asked to address the spring 2019 Delaware graduating class of IT Works, an impactful, if small, workforce development program from nonprofit Tech Impact.

This cohort of 18 was the program’s largest so far, and in showing how powerful it is to give at-risk young people a free certificate program for tech support roles, they attracted enough friends and family that the audience was more than 100. The event was cheery, taking place inside the Wilmington offices of CapitalOne, a funder of the program.

You can read a version of my remarks here, or listen below (or download them here)

3 simple ideas for thriving in an open office

You can find a lot of solid advice for surviving the open office.

The historical arc of offices is richly told. Despite the criticism they get, I’m fond of them, over many offices or more established cubicles. Someone recently asked me for advice, and I found I had three quick answers that I stand by.

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