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L.A. Times should shut off its presses, Politico should network, and other advice from Jeff Jarvis

What would Jeff Jarvis do? On Monday night, I asked the CUNY journalism professor and new-media evangelist how he would advise various news organizations that are struggling with old business models or experimenting with new ones. It was a rapid-fire exercise, and Jarvis, sporting a What Would Google Do? pin on his lapel, gamely offered his best elevator pitch for each company.

We discussed The Los Angeles Times, Politico, Gawker Media, Talking Points Memo, GlobalPost, The New York Times’ new local blogs, and ProPublica. Watch the video above for Jarvis’ advice, and a full transcript is after the jump.

Q: If you were advising the L.A. Times, what would you advise they do going forward right now?

Jeff Jarvis: I think concentrating on local, local, local, which they’re doing. Number one. And number two, create networks where they can’t do it all themselves and become more collaborative.

Q: Go web-only? Now or—

Jarvis: I think so. Somebody is going to, and we have to learn. So if the L.A. Times can do it, it would show the way for most everybody. And I think the L.A. Times could succeed at it in California, and that would be an important ray of sunshine and hope for the whole rest of the journalism business.

Q: If you’re Politico, making money some months, making money not other months, paying a lot of money for the journalists?

Jarvis: Yeah, again, I think Politico is kind of already a network and could become a network of top bloggers. I’m surprised that The Washington Post or Politico or The Guardian, for my work, or the Times hasn’t tied together the best political bloggers in networks. And I mean quality. But then sell against that and take a piece of all that and support that, so you don’t have to do everything with your own staff. It’s a more scalable method, I think.

Q: What would that look like, a network like that?

Jarvis: I think it would look like going to — I’m trying to think of — just Blogger A is brought to you with the advertising sale of Politico here. Politico is supporting their content. That blogger is, in turn, promoting Politico. It’s the Glam model brought to serious journalism.

Q: OK. And if you’re Gawker Media and Nick Denton, have you trimmed back far enough to get through the recession?

Jarvis: Yeah, I mean Nick loves to wear the hairshirt and act as if the world is falling down, but I think Nick’s doing very well, and he just is constantly adjusting and trying new models and finding the revenue to do things. His original goal was never to create a huge number of sites. He wanted to be the Condé Nast of online, the Si Newhouse of online. He has a few fewer than that, but Si’s culling magazines, too.

Q: So, Talking Points Memo, making money but not rolling in it. If you’re someone who wants to try to recreate the TPM model, is it possible?

Jarvis: Yeah, I think so. I think it’s possible against other niches. So TechCrunch covers tech, PaidContent covers the content business, and so on and so on. It’s all about grabbing your niche. The Internet does make a level playing field, and the way to stand out is by specializing and doing things really well.

Q: Does GlobalPost have a chance?

Jarvis: I think it does. But the way it’s gonna have a chance is if other news organizations hire GlobalPost journalists and help support them in place. GlobalPost alone can’t afford all these journalists, but the industry can, and if the industry trusts GlobalPost to find the best people, curate the best people, then I think there’s a chance that a good number of them could make a living.

Q: And you have an interest in this, but the Times’ The Local?

Jarvis: Yeah, I’m conflicted all up and down, but my students are going to work on The Local at the Times. I think what’s important about that is it’s The New York Times, of all places, trying to create a platform to help others than the Times’ journalists do journalism. I think that’s important.

Q: Sure, but for making money off of it? ‘Cause the Times isn’t—

Jarvis: I’m also bringing in a business student from Baruch to help try to figure out business models. We’ll see.

Q: All right, just figuring it out?

Jarvis: Yeah.

Q: OK, fair enough. And finally, the oddball out is ProPublica.

Jarvis: I think ProPublica and foundation support is a slice of a new pie. They can’t support all the big newspapers, they can’t support all of journalism, but they can contribute journalism. So the fact that ProPublica has had more than one story in The New York Times is a way that ProPublica is, in essence, subsidizing The New York Times. And that’s a good thing.

Q: All right. Thanks, Jeff.

Jarvis: Thanks.

                                   
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  • http://sellingprint.blogspot.com MichaelJ

    Re web only.

    The best way to activate journalism. The worst way to make money.

    The trick is to separate the content creation and storage from the delivery mechanism.

    Filter and edit the right stuff for the right community at the right time. Then reinvent the ad sales process and use versioned print technology.

    Then sell lots and lots of local ads to local business in a local area that is served by Print.

    And tell global stories and national stories in the language of the people in the community who are going to scan the Print.

    The web has unlimited real estate and a very low entry cost. Print has limited real estate and a very high entry cost.

    IMHO, a web only strategy will never make enough money. A web +versioned print + contextualized reporting is a reliable way to support great journalism, and even make a profit.

  • Tom Davidson

    Michael –

    I tend to agree – but I’m also reminded of the wonderful advice from prod-dev folks: “Our opinions, while interesting, are meaningless.” So lets tease at your model a bit. Describe your model a bit deeper, please – especially what you mean by “versioned print” and “contextualized reporting.” I suspect you’re going down the path that some orgs (like the CR Gazette in my ancestral homeland) have announced, and others are working behind the scenes …

  • Phillip Pfaffman

    Mr. Jarvis discusses interesting aspects of how to manage the shifting realities of a news reporting enterprise, but I think there are essentials that come before, say, tactics of editorial staffing. The basic value proposition of such an enterprise is the selection of what is news, and the accurate and disciplined reporting of it. It is an expensive process, but it is essential to our democracy. We need to figure out a way that it can be pursued for a profit, and how to foster a self-monitoring competitive environment in which it can flourish.