“The solution that’s emerging is so grassroots that it’s difficult to even know what already exists. Sites are being launched in tiny Midwestern towns and in big city neighborhoods by instant local news entrepreneurs who’ve never even heard of Nieman Lab or the Knight Foundation…
There are a number of reasons that this prediction piece by Matt Derienzo for Nieman Lab made for such an interesting read.
Not least for his use of the word ‘collapse’ in the headline.
Collapse has been a familiar theme on here since I first read Clay Shirky’s essay on the Collapse of Complex Business Models back in 2010.
Which, in turn, led me to the work of Joseph E Tainter and his scholarly work on the Collapse of Complex Societies.
What all three of us would argue is that the fate now befalling the local newspaper industry either side of the Atlantic – while heart-breaking in terms of the sheer numbers of jobs lost and the lack of local democratic oversight and accountability that then results – is nothing unforseen or unpredictable.
Quite the reverse. When ‘complexification’ runs its natural historical course, this is what happens.
It’s just that in this case, it’s the likes of Google, Facebook and Wall Street hedge funds ripping any last value out of a ‘society’ as opposed to Nero and his cavorting mates.
“Since 2009, ownership of local newspapers has consolidated rapidly to a handful of big companies, and several of the biggest — including GateHouse and Digital First Media — are owned by hedge funds with no background or commitment to the journalism business, and likely no long-term future, either,” Matt notes.
“Hundreds of small local dailies are in the hands of owners who are using newsroom cuts to milk profits for the short-term…”
Which is equally true here in the UK where a Wall Street hedge fund now owns Ashley Highfield’s arse – something the embattled CEO of Johnston Press rarely mentions as he assures the City of JP’s rich and vibrant future.
Does Steve Tananbaum give a flying fuck about the future of local media provision in Wigan where the circulation of the Wigan Evening Post is now hovering around the 2,500-mark? For an urban centre of 320,000…
Does he fuck.
But the point of having a model to follow – namely Tainter’s – is that you can then get to predict what happens next. And build your own business models accordingly.
Because the final act of complexity is indeed a collapse to a fresh simplicity.
And where once there were newspapers, you can watch as a 1,000 flowers start to bloom.
Be it in the shape of neighbourhood blogs, small town news sites and all manner of journalistic flora and fauna in between, nothing here is unexpected.
It’s following a historical pattern. Of what humans do when complex societies collapse.
They build again, simply, locally and bottom up.
“It will be left to individual communities to take responsibility for their own local news and information needs, and support grassroots replacements of what is lost. In almost every case, that will take a patchwork quilt of solutions… all playing off each other, and maybe even collaborating,” Matt surmises.
Collaborative people power. Building again. From the bottom up.
But whilst it may appear – for now – to be a ‘patchwork quilt’ of solutions in Matt’s words, if you have always built your business thinking on the premise of collapse then you can stitch this moment in time together – with an ad network fit for this new world order.
We have all learnt that there is a rich and eminently sustainable future for local journalism – if you accept collapse and build a simple advertising model.
One based on old-fashioned tenancy deals and not the vast cost and complexity that comes with running a Wall Street auction off your local-facing website.
Minus the cost of that complexity – because we’re starting again – my little ad network Addiply can afford to follow ‘Evslin’s Law of Ad Networks’ and offer publishers an 85% revenue return. Beating Google.
Whilst opening up everyone in a free, simple and safe network to regional advertisers and mid-sized marketing agencies – both of whom have lost the ability to engage with (ie understand) the latest in header-bidding and wrapper tag technology.
This idea that ad tech is now the exclusive playground for the rich and famous brand and agency-wise. See Rome.
To those already successfully running a local ad model, you merely add a complementary offering that opens their audiences up to new advertisers.
You collaborate, in short. Right across the network. Because you have stitched the ‘patchwork quilt’ together. Simply and elegantly.
That Shirky essay is well, well worth a read. I love the final par.
“There is one compensating advantage for the people who escape the old system: when the ecosystem stops rewarding complexity, it is the people who figure out how to work simply in the present, rather than the people who mastered the complexities of the past, who get to say what happens in the future…”
Collapse is just the final act of complexity.
It really is that simple.
Get over it.