I recently traveled to Seattle with my Changing Media Business Class. We toured several media groups and met with journalists there. Here’s what we were up to:
- SeattlePI.com: a former daily newspaper that transitioned to an online-only publication nearly four years ago.
- Tom Fucoloro: a blogger for two hyperlocal blogs, Seattle Bike Blog and Central District News
- The Seattle Times: the city’s daily newspaper
- Aggregate: a creative strategy group that works with non-profits and foundations
- GeekWire: a startup reporting on tech news
- MSN News: Microsoft’s news platform. It’s beginning to split from their partnership with NBC.
- Kris Peterson: a Mizzou J-School alum who currently works for Amazon in the Kindle division
We toured a variety of organizations that have vastly different audiences and purposes, but there were a lot of reoccurring themes. Here are some of the insights most striking to me.
1. Partnerships between news organizations is imperative. The message is clear. Journalism organizations must work together to survive. Both the Seattle Times and the SeattlePI.com have content sharing agreements with local tv news stations. If done right, this is a win for everyone to reach the greatest audience possible by doing what they do best.
2. Know who you are…and who you aren’t. MSN News, Microsoft’s news organization, has a clear view of who they are and what its purpose is. They made a conscious decision to not partner with (or compete with) the New York Times or the Boston Globe (they insinuated they were contacted by those groups). It clearly understands the type of news its consumers read and doesn’t try to appeal to people who aren’t going to read.
We spent some time talking about a new rumors section and the possible libel and/or ethical implications it might have. To me, I see this as a good resource for their target audience. They aren’t trying to be the high brow news source. Instead, in this rumors section they report on entertainment-ish news, but in a more responsible way than a tabloid. They can report on things before places like the New York Times or the AP would. They are trying to determine whether the rumor is true or false, rather than just perpetuating a rumor to troll for clicks.
3. Even general-interest publications must think about creating niche audiences.
I see niche publications, like GeekWire, having success moving forward. The cliché in the magazine industry, “A magazine for everybody is a magazine for nobody,” applies here. GeekWire has content, a community and activities for those interested in the tech-related world, and it is able to monetize that. As more journalism and media organizations charge for content, people are going to want to pay for the content that is most relevant and helpful to them. The Seattle Times, even though they are a general-interest publication, talked about appealing to their fervent sports audience specifically.
4. Journalism graduates can create their own jobs. Over the course of the trip, I was able to meet several former Mizzou J-schoolers. Some of them were “Capital-J” Journalists, others had meandered into other aspects of communication. But they were all working at the intersection of technology and communication. One grad told me, “I went to grad school at Mizzou to continue to refine some skills and take some time to sculpt the job I wanted at [insert organization name here].” It was a great reminder that I’m not limited to a job with a title of reporter, editor or producer.
5. There is hope for the journalism world. Some of what we saw was a little depressing. The SeattlePI, formerly a newsroom of 150+ journalists, has slimmed down to a dozen reporters in a small space with lots of empty cubicles. Tom Fucoloro shared his struggles of monetizing his blog. But while their financial situations aren’t booming, both Fucoloro and the SeattlePI are surviving and experimenting with ways to expand their audience and their revenue base. This is further proof that journalism is going to struggle for a while, but there are talented, passionate people in the field who won’t let it die completely.