Real World Media: The Reinvention of Journalism

Posted on | August 5, 2011 | 2 Comments

August 4, 2011

By Susan Older, Founder of Dis­placed Jour­nal­ists and Real World Media

I refuse to give up on the jour­nal­ism pro­fes­sion. I refuse to give up on dis­placed jour­nal­ists, either. Not just the peo­ple in our Dis­placed Jour­nal­ists com­mu­nity here on the Web, on Face­book, Twit­ter and LinkedIn, but all jour­nal­ists who can’t find a place where they belong anymore.

We need to rein­vent our pro­fes­sion to keep good jour­nal­ism alive.

Our soci­ety depends upon a free and vig­i­lant press. It is a fun­da­men­tal build­ing block of our democracy.

  • It pro­vides cit­i­zens with the news and infor­ma­tion they need to make their lives safer, eas­ier, hap­pier and more fulfilling.
  • It gives cit­i­zens the com­fort of know­ing some­one is out there look­ing after their interests.
  • It pro­vides the fun­da­men­tal role of ensur­ing an informed electorate.
  • It holds account­able the offi­cials cit­i­zens elect at the polls.

Why is jour­nal­ism bro­ken? We all know the answer: It’s money. It’s not the Inter­net. It’s the lack of rev­enue mod­els for both print and online news and infor­ma­tion operations.

Only Steve Jobs has hit on a real rev­enue model. The App Store is bril­liant, but it appears pub­lish­ers who try to sell their con­tent as apps will get only a small bite of the Apple – too lit­tle for sus­te­nance. We need to think about how we could emu­late that model with­out giv­ing our prod­uct away.

We need to deter­mine who will pay for qual­ity con­tent. I believe the demand still exists.

We need to restore cit­i­zens’ trust in the news they read and the jour­nal­ists who report it. We can do this. The solu­tion lies in get­ting the best and the bright­est back to work and in a posi­tion to men­tor young jour­nal­ists, to pass on the mojo, the ded­i­ca­tion, the eth­i­cal stan­dards and the devo­tion to excel­lence that once defined our profession.

I pro­pose a rev­o­lu­tion­ary solu­tion to save jour­nal­ism and journalists.

Real World Media.

It is a big idea and it will require seri­ous fund­ing. Can it be done? Absolutely. Can I do it alone? Of course not. We need help and we need fund­ing. I do believe, though, that it is a start.

We must pose the ques­tion of how to find buy­ers for qual­ity con­tent. Let’s give it a shot. Let’s come together to devise a plan that will improve as it evolves. We need solu­tions that address the con­cerns of cit­i­zens of local, state, national and global com­mu­ni­ties. Let’s be real­is­tic: glob­al­iza­tion has changed the rules of the game. Almost all of the things we cover are play­ing out to some degree on a global scale.

So what is the future of jour­nal­ism? How can we address these issues.

Real World Media: What is it? Why participate?

Real World Media is designed to be the first location-based (think FourSquare), mobile-device-driven global news web. It will pro­vide tai­lored news and infor­ma­tion cov­er­age by top-notch, vet­ted reporters, pho­to­jour­nal­ists and news video­g­ra­phers who are already at or near the scene – and top notch edi­tors who inter­act with these jour­nal­ists and fine-tune their work.

Real World Media will pro­vide jour­nal­ists with the work they haven’t been able to find and the respect they deserve. Jour­nal­ists will be paid fairly and imme­di­ately (think Pay­Pal) – a rare occur­rence for free­lancers in the wake of our industry’s mas­sive job losses.

Jour­nal­ists will be asso­ci­ated with the best and the bright­est col­leagues – reporters, edi­tors, pho­to­jour­nal­ists and news video­g­ra­phers – all of them drawn to Real World Media because it’s a pres­ti­gious, trusted net­work and it’s their best chance of get­ting fair com­pen­sa­tion for a job well done.

The edi­to­r­ial board of Real World Media will screen jour­nal­ists who seek to be part of its global net­work. Jour­nal­ists who have the right stuff will start receiv­ing assign­ments once it’s up and run­ning. Jour­nal­ists who don’t make the cut right away will be referred to cus­tomized train­ing and performance-improvement solu­tions to help them qual­ify at a later date.

The first step in any new ven­ture is to look at it from the point of view of the cus­tomer. Of course, this has always been the case for jour­nal­ists. We’ve been trained to make cov­er­age deci­sions based on what our read­ers want. I have always referred to this as the “what does it mean to me” fac­tor. Read­ers didn’t sub­scribe to news­pa­pers unless they deliv­ered news and infor­ma­tion that directly affected their lives. How can we make our cov­er­age so good that read­ers or users will pay for it online? It’s a tough ques­tion, but we must come with a solu­tion. We can’t just give up.

What about cov­er­age of “what they need to know”? Yes, we’ve always done that, too, because the great thing about news­pa­pers was that read­ers stum­bled upon things they couldn’t have pre­dicted they would want to read. It was serendip­ity. That’s some­thing we’ve lost to vary­ing degrees as news and infor­ma­tion migrated to online sites. Now users tend to go to the sites that reflect their spe­cific inter­ests or views. Real World Media will offer engag­ing enter­prise sto­ries, pho­tos and video designed to put the serendip­ity back into news sites.

What keeps Real World Media cus­tomers up at night?

Entre­pre­neurs in every field look for the “pain point.” They ask the ques­tion: “What keeps our poten­tial cus­tomers up at night?” If they can’t answer that ques­tion, they need to go back to square one and fig­ure it out.

Let’s look at our poten­tial cus­tomers’ needs and address them as if we were speak­ing directly to them.

This is a sam­ple scenario:

You are a man­ag­ing edi­tor at a news and infor­ma­tion oper­a­tion – either print or online. You have dis­missed more of your staff than you knew was wise. You did it because, finan­cially, you believed you had no choice. You or your pub­lisher felt it was nec­es­sary to trim the bud­get to stay in busi­ness. Unfor­tu­nately, you got rid of the best and the most expe­ri­enced jour­nal­ists because their salaries were the highest.

Now you’re look­ing at a dec­i­mated news­room and a big story breaks – one that directly affects your read­ers and your com­mu­nity. It could be floods, drought, and for­est fires. It could be cor­rup­tion in your local police depart­ment or city hall. It could be a scan­dal, play­ing out in Wash­ing­ton, one that involves local or state offi­cials. It could be a story about a local mil­i­tary man or woman engaged in bat­tle half way around the world. You want to cover these things, and you want the local angle, prob­a­bly with pho­tos and video, but you don’t have a staffer to spare.

What do you do?

  • Do you send a jour­nal­ist, pos­si­bly insuf­fi­ciently expe­ri­enced, to deal with a dif­fi­cult assign­ment, bag­ging the impor­tant story he or she was work­ing on before you had to shift gears?
  • Do you resign your­self to using a wire ser­vice story, know­ing that they are extremely unlikely to give you the local angle and that the same story will appear every­where else?
  • Do you call a free­lancer whom you may not know? Are you con­fi­dent he or she will get to the scene on time? Are they any good? Do you need to find a pho­to­jour­nal­ist or news video­g­ra­pher, as well?
  • How much time can you afford to spend set­ting this cov­er­age in motion?

You get the point. No mat­ter what you do, you rob your read­ers of one thing to give them another. That hurts. You never had to make this trade­off in the past. You once had a good and siz­able staff that was capa­ble of doing it all and doing it all well. Your news­room ran smoothly – okay, as smoothly as pos­si­ble. You could afford to take time lin­ing up free­lancers around the world for a big story, and once you did that you had a big enough staff to assign your own reporters to get the local angle.

Read­ers were loyal because you gave them news and infor­ma­tion that truly affected their lives – their chil­dren, health­care, fam­ily bud­gets, safety, schools, work­places, neigh­bor­hoods, hous­ing, etc. When it came to inves­tiga­tive report­ing or break­ing news cov­er­age that affected your read­ers any­where around the globe, you gave read­ers your best. Can you do this now, with sparse resources?

Real World Media clients: what we give you

So you decide to become a Real World Media client. Real World Media will pro­vide a sim­ple and afford­able solu­tion to the many prob­lems brought about by staff short­ages. You will get full cov­er­age with­out break­ing the bank. You, your pub­lisher, your read­ers and great jour­nal­ists can all sleep at night.

Real World Media takes your requests and uses cut­ting edge tech­nol­ogy to locate jour­nal­ists, pho­tog­ra­phers and video­g­ra­phers around the world to cover the story to your spec­i­fi­ca­tions. Maybe it’s a story break­ing halfway around the globe, but it affects peo­ple from your town, city or state. Real World Media will cover the global and the local angles of the story.

You will pay Real World Media and its jour­nal­ists well because you know they are worth it and you get what you need from them. Just think about what you once paid your most valu­able staff mem­bers, the ones you had to dis­miss as adver­tis­ing dwin­dled and news and infor­ma­tion took off into uncharted dig­i­tal territory.

Real World Media is not designed to take jobs away from work­ing jour­nal­ists. We’re happy to see jour­nal­ists work­ing at all. As for job­less jour­nal­ists, we gen­uinely hope they will find great jobs again. For now, though, why not tap into their tal­ent and expe­ri­ence through a sys­tem you can trust. But let me be clear: Real World Media is not a con­tent mill.

It’s a win-win for every­one. You will save on salary, ben­e­fits, travel expenses, and expen­sive equip­ment by using the ser­vices of Real World Media. Jour­nal­ists will get what they need by join­ing the Real World Media net­work, which ensures that they will be paid fairly and rapidly. As our net­work grows, we hope to nego­ti­ate group rates on ben­e­fits such as health care.

Your read­ers will get what they want, whether it is inter­na­tional or domes­tic cov­er­age with a com­mu­nity angle or an inves­tiga­tive report­ing project right down the road that you can­not begin to staff. It might even be a fea­ture story you just know your read­ers would enjoy, one that would enrich their lives.

As a client of Real World Media you  will have at least three options:

  • You may make a spe­cial request for a local angle on any given story. Real World Media jour­nal­ists will report it for you. This will serve your needs regard­less of whether the story is hap­pen­ing inside or out­side of your geo­graphic com­mu­nity. It doesn’t mat­ter. You will have the option of inform­ing read­ers of more than what’s hap­pen­ing. You will tell them exactly what it means to them, with quotes from local cit­i­zens and local officials.
  • You may request an exclu­sive story that will not be avail­able or even vis­i­ble to other clients on the Real World Media site. This will serve your needs if you want an exclu­sive on a break­ing story or if you want a highly qual­i­fied team to han­dle an inves­tiga­tive project or local story that you don’t have the staff to handle.
  • You may buy a story that appeals to your audi­ence straight off the Real World Media site. This will serve your needs if you sim­ply want the best pos­si­ble cov­er­age on an impor­tant story. This would serve your needs if you don’t need a local angle and aren’t con­cerned with exclu­siv­ity, but don’t want to run a wire ser­vice story iden­ti­cal to the one your com­pe­ti­tion carries.

Real World Media will run the net­work. We will find, eval­u­ate and direct the reporters, edi­tors, pho­tog­ra­phers and video­g­ra­phers. We will have lay­ers of edi­tors – all highly expe­ri­enced, respected and trust­wor­thy. We will main­tain a web­site fea­tur­ing syn­opses of all the sto­ries avail­able for pur­chase, the price, and the option to nego­ti­ate exclu­sive sto­ries or big sto­ries with local angles.

You will tell us what you need and we will find the best jour­nal­ists for you. We will use cutting-edge, location-based, mobile tech­nol­ogy to stay in touch with jour­nal­ists (reporters, edi­tors, pho­tog­ra­phers or video­g­ra­phers) who are at or near the scene and pre­pared to take the assign­ment. If another jour­nal­ist is required to inter­view peo­ple in your com­mu­nity for a local angle, we will pro­vide that ser­vice, too.

You will pay a fair price for sto­ries pro­duced by Real World Media’s global net­work of jour­nal­ists because you know they are worth it. They will fill the void cre­ated when you laid off your best staffers.

Real World Media will charge for the story, the pho­tos or the video you com­mis­sion from our net­work of jour­nal­ists. You will be oblig­ated by con­tract to buy the assigned story, pho­tos or video, regard­less of whether you use it. You will pay more if you decide to alter your orig­i­nal request. Of course, good reporters, pho­tog­ra­phers and video­g­ra­phers think for them­selves and are highly likely to deliver more than you asked for, sim­ply because of the sit­u­a­tion they find on the ground when they are in the process of report­ing or shoot­ing pho­tos or video.

Real World Media will have a multi-layered net­work of highly expe­ri­enced and vet­ted edi­tors to ensure that cus­tomers receive pro­fes­sion­ally edited products.

None of this is carved in stone. In fact, this is just a jump­ing off point.

Please join the dis­cus­sion and add you thoughts on this con­cept. I am work­ing on the web­site and mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als now. I would love to hear what you think, here on the Dis­placed Jour­nal­ists site, on the Real World Media Face­book page, or pri­vately at susanolder@realworldmedia.org. If you have other net­work­ing ideas, let’s find a way to imple­ment them.

____________________________________________

Editor’s note: You are read­ing this on Dis­placed Jour­nal­ists, so you may be won­der­ing why I chose to speak to the cus­tomer rather than directly to you about this idea I’ve been hatch­ing for the past year. The answer is this: You can see your role as you read this. We need to draw atten­tion to the con­cept and get cus­tomers and fund­ing sources inter­ested. All of the infor­ma­tion I’ve come up with thus far is in this piece, except for how we will price sto­ries and how much Real World Media jour­nal­ists will be able to earn. At this point, I don’t know how much you will earn if we do get fund­ing and this becomes a real­ity. How­ever, I am devoted to ensur­ing that jour­nal­ists are paid fairly. You will be part of the process as we begin to deter­mine rates. In no way will this resem­ble a con­tent mill. If any of you can offer your pro­gram­ming, design or mar­ket­ing skills for the cause, I can cer­tainly use them. I have no fund­ing at this point, and, of course, Dis­placed Jour­nal­ists has never been about mak­ing money.

– Susan Older

Comments

2 Responses to “Real World Media: The Reinvention of Journalism”

  1. Afi Scruggs
    August 20th, 2011 @ 11:43 PM

    Susan, I like this. Let me chew on it and I’ll get back to you.

  2. Susan Older
    September 2nd, 2011 @ 8:53 PM

    Thanks Afi. I wish more dis­placed jour­nal­ists would weigh in on it — so we can begin to dis­cuss some kind of grand plan.

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