Pardon the Disruption: What My News Startup Does NOT Aim To Disrupt

The go-for-the-jugular ambition of the good folk at Publish2 is inspiring. It is also a bit scary to see a 10-person startup try to take on/take DOWN the Associated Press… for what it says about how broken the news business is, how hard it will be to fix it and…what happens in the meantime. As a former AP correspondent in Rome, who stills follows the Vatican beat, I have watched my wire service colleagues’ outstanding work on the current Catholic priest sex abuse saga, breaking stories (here, here, here) in the past couple of months that bloggers or freelancers simply don’t have the resources or wherewithal to pull off in the kind of ongoing way as a crucial, far-flung story like this requires.

But none of that means that the AP is not vulnerable to assault. And if it vanishes, no one knows if/how Publish2 or anyone else will be able to substitute the work it does, and cover the ground it covers. For the second time in this space I refer to Clay Shirky’s ominous dictum about the prevalence of failure on both sides of the disruption divide in remaking the world of information/communication in our digital age.

But if the prospect of potential (or even likely) failure were ever to clip our ambitions, there would be no success worth achieving. So upward/onward for us all: hungry beat reporters and upstart news entrepreneurs alike. No one at Publish2 should scale back their goals, or somehow soften their direct, name-your-prey approach. Aiming high, and aiming straight is good for rallying the troops, making some waves, and of course, er…WORLD DOMINATION!

My question is about the fixation with the conception of disruption that often drives the New Media discussion. Though my sights are set pretty damn high as well…what I hope to create does not aim to actually disrupt any fundamental component of the news business. Indeed, it is conceived of as a boost to those currently hanging for dear life on around the world. This doesn’t mean that it’s not new, or innovative, or might even change the way people think about and consume foreign news. Moreover, if it works, some people might lose their jobs, and others might find new ones. It’s also worth confirming that both in my old and new lives, I have run into resistance from established forces of the news business, and so I know that there is indeed much that needs disruption…and in some cases, outright destruction.

But perhaps part of the what the news business needs now are ideas, mechanisms, products that help what has long existed better do its work and spread its product….and repair the bottom line. I am well aware that I say this, because this it what my product would do. But I also believe it is true– even a full year after having sipped the New Media Kool-aid. (DISCLAIMER/APOLOGY: I am still a couple of months from taking the details of my project public, and my decision to hold off on saying just what it is has slowed down this blog a bit, as a result. Despite the urgings of my astronaut soon-to-be brother-in-law “Go live, man. Go live!” I’m still holding off, lining up those ducks.  Soon…I promise!)

As we move toward what is coming, there will be some essential disruptions. There will also be stalling the inevitable, crutches and life support pulled out, sucking up resources. But there is also room for bridges, new networks for old players. This may be a failure of imagination on my part to grasp how much will change, but I am convinced that filters, brands, organizations…and yes, reporters and editors…are as important as ever in helping consumers of news get what they need.

I have a friend who is a successful airline industry consultant whose business booms when his clients are struggling. Indeed he once told me that a true, sustainable business model for air travel may not really exist. But that doesn’t stand in the way of lots of people and companies all along the food chain getting paid. In the meantime, the people get transported in a more or less sufficient manner.

Might we carry that analogy over to the news business? At least for the next 20-50 years!? Be just disruptive enough to make a decent living by continuing to do what we love doing. Spend as little time/energy navigating those burdened by salvaging what ought to be abandoned. And maybe have a small seat at the big table where the world of information is changing forever. This is my ambition.

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4 Comments

Filed under branding, business model, content, entrepreneurship, journalism, new media, old media

4 responses to “Pardon the Disruption: What My News Startup Does NOT Aim To Disrupt

  1. Hi Jeff,

    Thank you for the thoughtful post.

    We’re actually not as far apart as you cast us. In fact, we share precisely the same goal.

    You said: “But there is also room for bridges, new networks for old players. ”

    I wrote: “Our ultimate goal is to create a bridge for newspapers’ trusted brands into a digital future”

    We’re both focused on building bridges from the old to the new, to help the essential value of news brands and journalism survive and thrive in the digital age.

    I think the disconnect comes from your equating “disruption” with “destruction.” Our target is not AP’s valuable newsgathering, but their monopoly control over distribution. We believe that replacing that monopoly with a network of trusted news brands will actually HELP news orgs transform their businesses in the way they need to in order to survive. It is that “new network” you describe.

    We want to see new orgs actually *benefit* from disruption, instead of just being victims of it.

    I look forward to the launch of your startup and would love to see Publish2 News Exchange help you build your news brand and news business.

    Cheers,

    Scott Karp
    CEO
    Publish2

    • many thanks Scott for your reply. i DO indeed feel like we are swimming in the same direction (and who can tell where the current is coming from next!?). just a quick point on the ap/disrupt/destroy thing…as best i can understand it from my little cubby hole here in paris…is that it would seem that if you manage to break their monopoly on distribution, it would probably take down the news gathering operations with it…but again, i dont know the economics of the thing, just a hunch. and so be it if its the case….im long done thinking there are sacred cows to be saved…and its hard to tell what stuff is worth rooting for (beyond friends’ keeping their jobs) and what is just delaying the inevitable and innovation that will get us to a better place.

      i look forward to talking to you more about all this stuff…and my project, as i get closer to launch. still trying to zero in on a business model of my own!? again, all the best of luck on your end…just so you know, when i wrote “inspiring” i was actually referring to your presentation at tech crunch disrupt, which was one of the only things i caught in the live stream (couldnt find stand alone video clip of it to link to??). it was an awesome showing, lots of brains…and heart. Go get ’em! allbest, Jeff

  2. Pingback: links for 2010-06-03 | Wittgenstein

  3. 66

    “We’ve been kinda bummed at reddit these days. It seems like every week something comes up that slows performance to a crawl or even leads to a total site outage. And we almost never get a chance to release new features anymore.” http://blog.reddit.com/2010/07/reddit-needs-help.html

    Help! “SARE (Semantic Authority Ranking Engine) is an experimental news search engine that for each query calculates an authority score for every news outlet and blog, based on the semantics of linking behavior of the news community. It uses this information to surface the most authoratative content for each query.”
    Reddit wants readers pay a premium to share news links. “No, seriously, how much would you pay? We have no idea what we should be charging. So for now, we’re just going to let you pay whatever you want.” The network does that for free and will only get better at doing it. Plus you don’t need to subscribe even if they don’t know what the subscription should cost.

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