Michael Skoler: Mid-year report

With so many meetings, conferences, reports and workshops about the future of news, it’s a wonder anyone has time to think creatively about the future. I have read reports, attended a few of those meetings, and followed tweets and notes about others. My impression is that most of today’s discussion on the future is not looking forward, but looking backward… trying to find ways to resuscitate the business models of old, when mass media enjoyed near monopolies on news and advertising.

The current talk is mainly about erecting paywalls for online news (back to the subscription model) or finding ways to squeeze more money from a shrinking advertising pie. And the goal is to keep today’s news organizations alive rather than redesigning the business to make it a powerful growth industry in the global information economy.

So this year, a few journalism students and I have stepped away from the mainstream discussion to study information-based ventures that are succeeding in the new information soaked and revenue strapped media environment. We are studying growing companies that have at least 2 years of results, rely primarily on earned revenues not donations, and are profitable. We expect to discern lessons that will point the news business toward a new way of doing business.

We pinpointed half a dozen ventures, are still looking for others and have dug into research on the first three companies — Politico, Consumer Reports and Angie’s List. The initial research and interviews with executives will be complete by the winter holidays. We will turn our findings into case studies that can be used in business and journalism schools and into articles and presentations that we hope will advance the future of news debate.


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