What happens when you take away the money question?

I mean, obviously you can’t ignore the question of how local newspapers make money online, but maybe some of us are coming at it from the wrong direction.

The reason I say this is that “how do local newspapers make money” came up as a question a number of times during the panel I was on at yesterday’s Media 140 microblogging conference.

It’s a question that, in one sense, is a hugely important one to ask in the light of the current local newspaper crisis. On the other hand, perhaps there are other questions that need to be answered first.

So what if you took away the money question. What questions would we be asking about local newspapers? Perhaps we’d be asking: What are they for? Who do they serve? What should they contain? Why do we produce them in the way we do?

Perhaps its spending time answering these that gets us closer to answering “How do we make money?”.

This struck me whilst watching Jane McGonigal‘s Webstock presentation that asks “Why doesn’t the real world work like a game?”.

The slide above particularly grabbed my attention. These are the main elements that make people happy, Jane says.

She argues that Alternate Reality Games are so addictive because they take the four points that make people happy into account.

It also occurs that the role of a local news organisation should encompass all four of these criteria too. Point 3 and 4 should be easy – local news should be part of a community and should have lots of ways of putting people in touch.

Local news organisations have traditionally had the ambition to make their area a better place to live, with this usually manifesting in campaigns. That is being part of something bigger.

Perhaps both of these need to be re-envisioned for the 21st Century, but the values and thinking should already be there.

Points 1 and 2? Well that’s where I think it could get interesting. The way I think about this is that it’s all about empowering the people who engage with you, give them the tools to (as Jane puts it) “be awesome” and recognise that when it happens.

I haven’t fully thought out how this would manifest itself , but it seems to me that this is a better line of enquiry to follow if we want to make local news more relevant to consumers.

Jane’s full presentation:

Also Jane’s presentation “The Rise of the Happiness“.

10 thoughts on “What happens when you take away the money question?

  1. Joanna,

    this ties in really well with Pat Kane’s book ‘The Play Ethic, which he referenced in his keynote at Media140. well worth a read.

    Also, on a heavier note, Victor Frankl’s book ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’ is pretty amazing on the deeper side of this topic. Puts lots of things in perspective.

    I loved what Christian Payne said at Media140 – basically, screw the monetization, let’s look at how this technology can liberate and empower the poor and the marginalized. It’s a question that can certainly be asked in local news, given the unique reach that local papers have, an the opportunity to speak on behalf of local communities that otherwise don’t have a voice.

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  3. @ande Thanks for the link and well done on organising the day.

    @Steve Cheers for the recommendation, I will check out Pat’s book.

    I totally agree that Christian’s points were very important to make – particularly the work being done over SMS in Zimbabwe.

    However, I don’t think I could screw the monetization completely.

    It’s difficult when I talk about community, or experience, or happiness as people tend to plonk me into the “fluffy” camp and fluffy doesn’t have much to do with “hard” business.

    Yet to me these elements have everything to do with business because you are selling to human beings and, as a species, we all respond well to products or services that make us feel good (in however small a way).

    Seth Godin probably puts it better than I when he talks about the experience of Starbucks.

  4. Indeed, the importance of Christian saying ‘screw it’ was not that it was the whole picture, just that it was a powerful counter-balance to the ‘we can’t make loads of money, therefor it’s worthless’ message that seems to come up so often.

    I think the lanuage of sustainability is good here – I get really annoyed when I see millionaire entrepreneurs laying off staff who were on $25K a year because they can’t make the returns on investment that VCs require, even though the business could pay the salaries of everyone involved quite easily. The VC poker-game model of funding businesses is pretty rapacious in the way it deals with the creative minds that power the companies at employee level.

    Money’s clearly needed to keep things working, to fund development, to pay people, maintain infrastructure, but the point at which great ideas get shelved because someone can’t make 20% a year return on their investment is the point at which I side with the employees and those who need the tech to keep going in order to help the poor…

    Balance, in everything 🙂


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  6. I’d like to disagree with Steve. Yes, it is regrettable that people lose their jobs because their managers cannot deliver the profit margins required by VC, but that is hardly VC’s fault. You are quite right that great ideas get shelved, but that is down to management’s fear of the unknown. They have learnt how to play it safe and are doing everything they can to keep that game on. VC, on the other hand, is all about taking risks (venturing, as it were). So, whereas it can put a strain on a company to deliver extraordinary financial results, VC also spurs the creativity and innovative thinking required to get such results.

  7. On your point about giving people stuff to do and the feeling of being good at something: exactly.

    In a massively interactive media environment like the one we have now, game design and game dynamics hold important lessons for crafting a meaningful and rewarding user experience.

    Audience members, readers or listeners don’t really exist any more. We need to think of users, and the winners in this arena will be the media organizations that can give their users the most meaningful and rewarding user experience.

    Of course, the interactive medium that excels at making people feel engaged and rewarded is gaming. Our users will find more value if we can structure our media to allow them to be players.

    I think game design in general is where many of the answers will lie. For journalism, Alternate Reality Games specifically hold five important lessons.

  8. I forgot to add:

    The point of all this is that ultimately, the media outlet that creates the most rewarding, engaging experience will attract the people. That’s not an answer to the monetization question, but it’s a precursor: Without the mass public interacting with your stuff, you won’t make a dime.

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