If I had unlimited money to invest in growing Philadelphia journalism

Smart people are making calculated investments in Philadelphia’s journalism community.

It’s clearly something about which I am passionate and devoted. It’s also something I put a lot of thought into. This weekend, I found myself returning to a thought process of the past, just free associating everything I would invest in if money was no object toward growing Philadelphia journalism.

Of course, money is a big object, but the brainstorm can help. I share my thoughts below and would love to hear what I am missing or what I seem to be paying too much attention to.

Again, this is nothing but stream of consciousness brainstorming. Take it as that, but give me your thoughts.

  • OVERALL: It’s a bottom line-focused nonprofit that houses, supports and promotes for-profit ventures in news and information, in addition to public affairs-oriented nonprofit journalism. It has branding and a major landing page focused on data warehousing and partnerships.
  • We’d be based off an open-source platform.
  • We’d work with independent publishers and any legacy media partner who wants to get on board.
  • By my (very rough) math, I figured about $4.5 million the first year, including a lot of initial startup costs, so that would fall to $2 million in annual operating costs the following year and increase from there.
  • Physical space — ($1 million) A big, fat, expensive, renovated warehouse space with office space, retail front-end to bring in average citizens, maybe some art space to recognize the proliferation and variety of media. There would also be a kick ass museum documenting Philadelphia’s vibrant history of news, innovation, information and journalism. This would be near enough to Center City, but partner sites would be encouraged to offer office hours at coffee shops or wherever else in the city is relevant to their coverage. Oh, and there would also be a bike rack, roof deck and pool table.
  • Incubation — ($50,000 in overhead) Using that physical space and a business services hub that might look like this and will be detailed a bit more below, I’d house young niche news sites, promising technology and development startups and other young players in the media space. I’d offer bonuses for collaboration.
  • Public media space — ($50,000) Working off the promise of what WHYY has done, I’d have some shared-use space — perhaps integrated in the retail space noted above — to offer organizations, school groups and citizens. I’d hire a pack of smart college kids to sit around and answer questions and learn.
  • Hub site — ($50,000) Yes, I think I would want a landing page, but while it would serve as a clearing house for featured content across all of our partners, pushing and highlighting the best of the best, it would be home to important tools, as noted below. So, anyone who creates content and is housed in my physical space or any other vetted, meaningful content producer — whether legacy, startup, community, print, online, organization, nonprofit, for-profit or other — who wants to be part can take part.
  • Directory — ($70,000) A public reporter’s notebook, a local Wikipedia or Crunchbase or whatever other metaphor you need to understand it, but the biography, photo and primary personal details would be buffeted by tagged content from a core group of independent publishers and just about every and any legacy media player who can summon the technology, workflow and interest in collaborating. I was just involved in an application for Knight News Challenge money to accomplish this. While that hub site will highlight daily featured content, this directory serves as the real editorial meat connecting all the partners.
  • Spiderweb of influential relationships — ($20,000) That directory would have an incredibly interactive map of personal and professional connections updated with meta information like family ties, co-sponsored legislation and other relationships. This would require upkeep but would become part of the workflow of our journalists, tracking how the relationships change in power.
  • Data warehouse — ($200,000) Pushed to from the directory and partnered with the City of Philadelphia, organizations and companies, meaningful GIS, demographic, crime and other data would have a home and a place to live and be found. We would also encourage the sharing of documents to play that role that everyone is talking about, (and, please, forgive the comparison), to be something of a watered-down local Wikileaks. (Yes, I’m sorry)
  • Application development — ($200,000) Using the development team noted below, we would create products that citizens can use, could be shared and, additionally, could create profit.
  • CEO — ($200,000) A public face of some stature who can chase money (lots and lots of money), speak at events and look pretty. Yes, I suppose he or she should also provide meaningful vision for the future. Did I mention that this person should have to bring in lots of money in every way possible?
  • Kick ass advisory board — ($50,000) Feed them well and treat them kindly, but otherwise, using the prestige of what we’re building, I’d assemble a collection of business, startup, journalism, academic, community, political and business leaders to have quarterly meetings on the sustainability, focus and direction of this entity. These people would also help bring money in, speak on our behalf and push the conversation on the future of news.
  • Managing Editor — ($100,000) Someone who oversees the day-to-day management, including, perhaps, final say on what content is pushed on the hub site, though that actual work might be managed by someone lower.
  • Other executives — ($300,000) To handle insurance, liability, accounting and other management.
  • Sales team — ($500,000) I’d hire a business development officer and a few young, hungry, strong ad sales representatives who are web native. I’d give base salaries and offer lots of commission, performance bonuses and creative incentives to sell, not just advertising, but memberships, events, product sales and broader partnerships.
  • Marketing staff — ($100,000) I’d hire a couple young, wildly creative recent graduates from the city, give them a budget and have them rotate through our partner sites, working to conceive, promote and put on inventive, inclusive events to grow knowledge, community and, likely, revenue.
  • Design and development — ($400,000 ) Give me a pack of experienced engineers, developers, designers, coders and data geeks to create innovative ways of collecting, keeping, maintaining, promoting and visualizing data. Because, as old Tim Berners Lee keeps saying, the future of news is data.
  • Copy editors — ($100,000) I’d have a couple of smart, young recent graduates to proof top tier content (i.e. break content into different tiers so only the most important/controversial content requires heavy editing and proofing).
  • General assignment reporters — ($150,000) I want in my network a few shared reporters who would be dispatched to different partner sites depending on level of interest, importance, vacation time, etc.
  • Pen and Pencil Club V 2 — The oldest journalism group in the country is in Philadelphia. I’d want to work with them to get an entire slew of new, younger journalists involved to talk to the more experienced and develop a new clubhouse for journalists and off-the-record events.
  • Investigative Reporting Fellowships — ($200,000) We’d offer sweet year-long fellowship opportunities to two aggressive, respected, wildly successful journalists to spend an entire bloody year on a single project, with updates along the way.
  • Reporter blogs — ($5,000) Any damn reporter, editor, designer, developer, executive or freakin’ janitor who doesn’t already have a personal site but wants one, gets one. YOURNAME.HUBSITE.com and you blog about the process of doing whatever it is you’re doing. Create a brand, develop an audience, share your work, push out to other ideas and, hell, if we can your ass, I’ll personally export your archives and hand deliver them.

How I’d return my investment:

  • Equity stake — in each individual company we incubated, which includes niche news sites, hyperlocal communities and, as noted above, technology companies to help them all work better.
  • Fiscal agency — In one way or another, I’d serve to physically and financially host damn near any relevant project, grant or research initiative I could find, skimming money off the top of each major grant-funded activity that came through.
  • Application development – Using the data we’d collect, our development team would create applications that would also have  monetary gains, whether for consumers or, more likely, other commercial and entrepreneurial enterprises.
  • Advertising network — In addition to cutting costs on lots of shared services, yes, I’d have an advertising network across all my partner platforms that would start by looking something like this.
  • Commission on everything — I’d sell underwriting, advertising, event sponsorships, trainings, tutorials and every damn service any of the partners would conceive of across the entire network and take a cut on every solitary dime.
  • Membership services — Using the directory described above, I’d sell memberships to edit profiles, in a way that we are moving toward doing at Technically Philly, and give a small kickback one way or another to the partner sites providing content. This membership would offer reduced-price services and event attendance for all of the partnering sites.
  • Some limited rent — Reduced-rate rent for the more advanced, incubated companies, in addition to some limited retail space.
  • God damned gift shop — It’d be a low-margin, profitable loss leader to bring people into another part of the physical space but we’d sell schwag from all of our partnering and incubating companies, that could get a cut, in addition to Philadelphia-centric merchandise.
  • Consulting and publishing services — We’re good at things as journalists. Check back with me.

Who I’d partner with:

  • A very fine line needs to be drawn between competition and avoiding redundancy, both of which are important but both of which can come into conflict.
  • Anyone who would get stuff done — It doesn’t have to be perfect but it has to be done and developed and moved. I will take people who get shit done over any aspiring perfectionist or brilliant star any damn day.
  • Temple University Philadelphia Neighborhoods Senior Journalism Capstone class – Half of your students are in year-long internships with our partner sites or on broader research projects and the other half are on-the-ground handling our North Philadelphia coverage.
  • WHYY and Newsworks — If their hyperlocal movement continues, I’d happily push, promote and support in anyway. I’d hope they’d be a partner generally, so we would push their way. I’d hope to create co-branded podcasts, so this region could have some meaningful, regular audio content of power.
  • KYW 1060 Newsradio – Handle any need for us to offer traffic updates, please, ’cause I don’t wanna.
  • TV news — Whoever jumps on board first would be our TV partner. TV news is great for quick hits, so we’d partner around reducing the need to hit breaking coverage of fire, crime and the like.We get multimedia content and don’t have to waste resources.
  • Metro — I’d leverage all of my partners and say, hey, let us take over one day of the week your print issue.
  • Inquirer and Daily News — We’d share content for suresies, if they wanted some of our longer-form research and reporting. Also, naturally, if they’d want it, I’d want them in the tent to push from our hub site. We also would shoot to come together for events. Our sports coverage would be limited, so we’d push their way.
  • Philly.com — Any revenue models they have, we’d want to support. Maybe unique incubation ideas.
  • Comcast SportsNet — If we could find a partnership around sports coverage, I’d happily leave that much aside. So we’d just push their way also.
  • Independents Hall — Around development, incubation or whatever. I just want them in the tent.
  • Every incubation and VC in the region — Anyone who knows the business and startup scene should be involved here in one way or another.
  • Philadelphia Business Journal — Events. Listings, the directory perhaps.
  • Every neighborhood newsweekly who cares — If you don’t have a website or bad one and want a better one, we’ll give you one at NEWSWEEKLY.HUBSITE.com. Either way, a la the Newseum, I’d want the front pages of every print newsweekly (and print product of any kind, actually) on my site to then push their way.
  • Every college news outlet with a pulse — Join our network, use our tools, hang out at our events, learn and get in the pipeline to becoming the future of Philadelphia news. (Note, I care more about college newspapers, radio stations and other extra curricular groups because, in my experience, these are the kids who succeed, not the schlubs who just show up for class).
  • Spot.Us – I would want to be the East Coast hub for David Cohn’s baby. Rather than citywide coverage, I’d want to make this an integrated part of a specific niche, like city hall coverage, perhaps a partnership with one of the groups below.
  • Meaningful mission-orientated nonprofits — The Committee of Seventy, the National Constitution Center, the Economy League, the Chamber of Commerce and any other large, mission-orientated nonprofit should have a role in content creation and partnership.
  • Pen and Pencil Club — As noted above, there is huge knowledge here. I would want to preserve it and celebrate it.
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