What would happen if a major U.S. city was suddenly without a daily newspaper? It seems increasingly possible these days and so the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism set out to find an answer. They hired business analysts to create economic models for the news organizations that spring up. CUNY Professor Jeff Jarvis says journalism could thrive without a daily newspaper.
All the Big Trees
Artist: Riceboy Sleeps
Jeff Jarvis blogs at Buzzmachine.com and teaches at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, where a large study called New Business Models for News was just completed.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER] CUNY hired business analysts to suppose a place that doesn't exist yet but one many fear will exist all too soon, a U.S. city with a metropolitan population of five million, and no daily newspaper.
The business analysts took their best shot at predicting what would happen to the news marketplace in that hypothetical city - what new news organizations would spring up, and how many reporters could they hire, how much ad revenue would they bring in? And once they came up with the results, they posted all their spreadsheets on the Web and encouraged people to tweak the numbers and to make the model more accurate. Jeff Jarvis, welcome back. Hello.
JEFF JARVIS: Hey there.
BOB GARFIELD: You set out to answer a simple question: Can journalism be sustained in top-25 metro markets if all the cities’ dailies should fold? So I have a question for you. Can journalism be sustained in top-25 metro markets [LAUGHS], if the papers there all fold?
JEFF JARVIS: [LAUGHS] Isn't this the cue for your jingle, Bob?
GROUP SINGS JINGLE: Present and future business models for monetizing the newspaper industry.
JEFF JARVIS: The tough question we've been asked often is, well, what does happen to journalism if the paper dies. And we believe that it won't be replaced by a single new entity but instead by an ecosystem of many different players operating under many different, you know, means, motives and models. We found there are hyperlocal bloggers today who are pulling in 100 to 200,000 dollars in revenue. That alone told us there is a sustainable business here for journalists, many of whom are leaving their newspaper jobs and trying to do this. When you add it all up, we believe that there is a robust news ecosystem that can serve this community for less cost, but still profitable, a bunch of smaller players, each one profitable, each one sustainable.
BOB GARFIELD: We just got done speaking with Jim Barnett about the non-profit part of the ecosystem, foundation money principally, that would fund the nuts-and-bolts journalism that we most depend on currently from existing newspapers. You've just mentioned hyperlocal bloggers. What other species are in the ecosystem?
JEFF JARVIS: So we looked at the hyperlocal blogger, we looked at a framework that enables networks to be created that really make this work so that people can sell ads across each other. We looked at the not-for-profit news, like NPR that fits into this ecosystem. And we looked at what we call the new news organization, the successor to the newsroom now, made up of journalists who still do beat and investigative journalism. That is the backbone of all the news. However, they also have other new roles. They need to work collaboratively with this network of hyperlocal and interest bloggers. They maybe need to train them. They need to curate their work. It’s a smaller organization. We project up to 46 people in the new news organization, after three years. However, if you add up all the staff from all the blogs and the new news organization, we see a staff of about 275, which is equivalent to an existing newsroom, for a city this size.
BOB GARFIELD: And do they make any money, like enough to pay the rent and buy groceries, or are they subject to the forces of supply and demand that have already driven so many people out of work?
JEFF JARVIS: Of course, one should never believe a business plan.
[BOB LAUGHS] But ours shows that at the end of three years, these are businesses that bring in margins that are reminiscent of the glory days of newspapers. However, Bob, these are much smaller businesses, so a 30 percent margin on a 20-million-dollar business is not the same as a 30 percent margin on a 400- or 800-million-dollar business, which is where newspapers used to be. So it is smaller, but it is profitable, and that means it’s sustainable. It’s sustainable on advertising, primarily, but on other revenue streams, as well – running events, doing databases, all kinds of opportunities.
BOB GARFIELD: As you cobble together this ecosystem with, you know, sort of the spare parts of the old model and the Internet, do your plans foresee recreating in entirety what we've had from the good old days in the new world order, or are we going to have to just do with less quality journalism?
JEFF JARVIS: No one is going to know what the Promised Land looks like ‘til we get there, but as an optimist [LAUGHS] I think there is a good opportunity that journalism can become better, richer, more deeply involved in the fabric of society, that we can cover more towns, that journalists can specialize and work in depth in their topic areas. Now, that’s my rosy view. Is it possible that that won't work? Sure. In fact, we're bound to have some level of chaos in between. I had this dreamy vision that we were going to have this kind of January 21 in journalism, where the print president would hand it off to the digital president and off we go. Well, it’s not going to be the case. If a paper dies, you’re going to see chaos, you’re going to see bad guys get away with stuff. But I believe, Bob, we're then going to see a market demand for journalism, and what we think, out of our study at CUNY, is that the market can meet that demand. And at the end, I have the faith and the hope that society will demand quality journalism and that there’s great new ways to bring that to people, at a more efficient cost, in more depth and detail, and that we can actually improve journalism, not just save it.
BOB GARFIELD: You debuted your findings in front of a bunch of big thinkers and big machers at the Aspen Institute this week. What kind of response did you get there?
JEFF JARVIS: It was gratifying to hear these machers adopt our language of new news organizations and hyperlocal networks and frameworks and networks. So, what I really saw was that they were acknowledging that huge change is upon us. There are those who wish they could just protect the old paper the way it was, and they're still around. But the machers even recognize that change must come. Now, we can then debate exactly how that happens, and that was the debate at Aspen. Next, in New York, we hope to take this to the entrepreneurs who are going to build this future. But I think that there is an acknowledgement in all quarters now that journalism is changing, must change, must be rethought and reinvented for a new age.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, Jeff. Well, I certainly hope your optimism is well founded. Thank you for joining us.
JEFF JARVIS: Thanks, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Jeff Jarvis blogs at Buzzmachine.com, teaches at City University of New York and is author of the fabulous book, What Would Google Do?