An effort to find new revenue models launches

Next weekend, the Society will be part of a day-long event in Washington aimed at helping the struggling newspaper industry find revenue solutions in a few key areas. The belief is that design thinking can help frame the issue because those of us used to conceptualizing can make a fast round of prototypes that will help spur further discussion and point to better practices.

Along with Steve Dorsey, the Society’s secretary/treasurer, I’ll be part of the team that’s aiming for answers. We’re not foolish enough to believe we can fix things in one day, but we know the path to progress starts with a first step.

The effort, called RevenueTwoPointZero, came about because longtime consultant and provocateur Alan Jacobson began talking to us just after the most-recent awards for The Best of Newspaper Design™ were handed out in February: Alan wondered what designers were doing to think about the business model problem — and he insisted that the solutions have to come from monetizing online through paid advertising.

Alan asked us what the Society’s members might offer to such a discussion, and he wondered whether visual journalists might not be more suited to the task of creating experiences. Those seemed like good questions to us, which is how the effort started, carried along in large part by Alan’s persistence in pledging to convene a group quickly.

We reached out to top thinkers in information design, who all agreed to come, at their own expense, to take on the challenge.

I wrote about the opportunity we see to explore how advertising becomes content and context when done well.

Now we’re working to gather additional opinion and thought leadership on the site before March 21, when we convene in the nation’s capital to start doing hands-on work. The group is intentionally small so we can get work done. A little less conversation, a little more action.

Why should SND members be involved?

As we say in the manifesto that kicked off the project: The Society and its members have been at the cutting edge of virtually every newspaper innovation in the past 30 years including pagination, color, digital imaging and multimedia. SND has more direct leadership experience with radical change than any other group in the newspaper industry. And everyone in the industry agrees that radical change is needed.

That’s why we’re hoping Society members will help us see through to answers by posting comments, offering criticism, providing inspiration, writing guest commentary, and generally jumping into the fray of how online revenue can help fund the journalism so many of us believe is worth doing.

“Our democracy depends upon journalism, which can no longer be sustained by the revenue models we’ve enjoyed for 400 hundred years. The folks responsible for the new revenue models — the guys in charge of online sites — have failed spectacularly to deliver the money newsrooms need to serve the public good,” Alan said, when I asked him to explain his passion for the work. “These guys have had more than a decade to figure this out. Now it’s time for the journalists to step up and do the job the business types should have done — find a way to fund journalism with online.”

That’s what we plan to start doing on March 21. The group will have its first prototypes available by the Monday after the weekend work. We will commit to publishing our first findings report on March 23, if not earlier.

“I’m excited to be joining a group of highly creative thinkers and accomplished communicators. We’ve set some pretty aggressive and reaching goals that some may even view as naive or arrogant, but I think you have to do that in order push yourself,” Steve said. “If we only get halfway to those goals that would be something no one else has been able to do yet. Success for the project might mean just learning something new and opening the door for a better idea set.”

Help with the work ahead

We know this is a giant task, so we are being a bit audacious to say we will have examples to show at the end of just one day, but we like the idea of rapid prototyping to reveal what next steps should be. We also know we have to begin to conceptualize a sustainable journalism future. That’s why we must push the industry to move from conversation to action.

There’s no group better suited to do this than the Society, whose members have always helped answer the call for creativity and innovation.

Please check the site and help us in the effort. If you have an idea, post it in the comments. And if you have something you would like to write as a longer piece for the site, email me. On behalf of the Society, thanks for being part of the solution.

Follow us on Twitter @rev20h

Matt Mansfield is president of the Society and an associate professor for the Medill School of Journalism.