I suppose that every day is a good day to talk about how and whether the journalistic enterprise will remain commercially viable as the world turns in these days of our lives, or indeed whether all my children can recover from their financial ailments, be released from the General Hospital, and find a guiding light to lead them to the promised land of free cash flow. Progress on “new business models,” however, seems to move along at about the same pace as a soap opera plot – even though hardly a day passes without an announcement that someone is going to try something new, or someone else is going to essay something old in a new way.
Indeed it was thus on Thursday, a day when I opened the New York Times to read about the plans by the folks behind Politico to compete online with the Washington Post on local news. And I was actually in a good spot to keep thinking about their admission that they didn’t know how the Web economics might work; since the dean of Medill, John Lavine, had another commitment, I was at Harvard, sitting in at an “executive session” on, ahem, news business models.
Entitled “How to Make Money in News: New Business Models for the 21st Century,” the event gathered an intentionally small group at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge: about 20 panelists for the day’s three discussions, and about 30 additional participants on hand both to listen and to take part. Alex Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy, and author most recently of Losing the News: The Future of the News that Feeds Democracy, was the convener.
As it turned out, the three panels were so packed with speakers with something to say that many of us other participants – who sat in chairs ringing a central square of tables where the panelists faced one other – got in our licks à la mode du 21ème siècle: 140 characters at a time.
Now, granted, this may not have been optimal. In her prepared remarks, MIT’s legendary Sherry Turkle – generously not calling attention to anyone seated behind her or on the flanks – pointed to the substantial body of research that shows “your ability for any single task goes down when you multitask. No matter how much we want to jump on the bandwagon, multitasking degrades performance.”
I therefore must cop to the fact that none of my listening, note-taking, or tweeting were as good as they might have been. On the other hand, I must also say that those of us who were intermittently posting and reading got a window in what an additional 10 people were thinking, were piecing together, or were valuing as interesting (or, in some cases, not thinking, not piecing, not valuing). If you’re interested, you can recreate the moment by searching Twitter for the hashtags #Shorenstein and #newsmoney, with far more at the former; I certainly won’t get to all the sound bites here. My own tweetstream is at twitter.com/YoungOwen.
Multitasking, Harvard Square style: in-mirror televison
(Oh, while we’re on the subject of multitasking, staying at the Charles Hotel provided me with a new model. I guess they’ve been around since 2006 or so, but the Charles’ bathrooms feature “in-mirror TV’s” from a company called Séura, whose web site explains, “Enhanced color correcting technology allows the LCD picture to appear when on, while flawlessly concealing the screen behind a bright reflection when off.” Turkle, I am sure, would rightly caution us that there is a risk of degrading the quality of one’s ablutions in the process.)
Turkle’s actual multitasking point, by the way, was centered on how journalists should choose their methods and channels of communicating. “Newspaper reading creates a ‘reading space’ that journalism occupies,” she said. “The teenagers I study leave us with a profound question: Will we be able to have journalism when we don’t have newspapers to appear in? Reading on the Web, if it is all you do, does not favor complex lines of thought. So the implication for news is to stay with narratives that need to be read with all one’s attention.”