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“.