I’m excited and frustrated. The promise in news tech has never been greater. But neither have the challenges.
The President is a distraction. No doubt, real damage is being wrecked, but the election was a symptom and not the cause of our current disease of the body politic.
Mass media, corporatization, consolidation, the Internet, and finally the financial crisis resulted in the dissolution of the local media business model.
The Times, The Journal, The Post – they are safe. Subscribe, yes, but don’t worry about their sustainability in an existential sense. Myopically, shamelessly, ruthlessly: I believe the problem is local.
I’m excited there is a small batch of promising local news startups that have to varying degrees refrained from the siren call of venture or corporate funding.
The news companies that excite me most today are WhereBy.Us, Charlotte Agenda, ARLNow, Levittown Now, and Technically Philly. I want to pour fuel on their fire. Despite my enthusiasm, there is one nagging thought at the back of my mind: How do we prevent this from happening again? What enabled corporatization and consolidation?
Ownership is the material thing. Hedge funds, not awesome. Public or pre-public company, okay. Billionaire philanthropist (or his philanthropy), now we’re talking. But even better than having a good owner is being a good owner.
We can focus on grooming and supporting independent and strong publishers who can begin the slow and low multiple effort of building service-oriented local news businesses. Publishers who believe in sharing the journey – emotional, financial – with editorial staff. Labor and capital intertwined.
Why not? Decision making power need not correlate with financial share, so Church and State should not be an issue any more than a blind trust would be in a political setting.
We all should know by now that not all ownership, not all publishers, are created equal. Love those who speak truth to power and support your local news collective!