“It would be funny if journalists were more like musicians and got signed to labels.”
That’s what I was thinking earlier, and I kinda giggled at it.
But then realized that book publishing is already somewhat similar.
Big, corporate record labels and book publishers aren’t really the model I’m thinking of – more like small press book publishers and indie music labels. And then I thought: “Huh, why isn’t there something like that for mobile applications?” Oh yeah, duh: startup accelerator programs. Huh.
So maybe it’s like this:
A news team proves their knowledge, skills, and abilities by developing a demo application and blog. They sign a contract with a news organization to provide a certain number of applications, books, or films and maintain a certain level of blogging activity.
The news organization provides a retainer, ad revenue percentage, and royalties on product sales, as well as mentors, office space, equipment, seed money for projects, and other resources.
The news organization would encourage – or require – each news team to work in the open, to release source code of their projects, and to contribute to existing open source projects when possible.
After getting this far with the idea, I realized that I’m almost describing Code for America.
Code for America is a little bit like a news organization that focuses on government data, and mostly on city data, and they have more of a focus on technology than news. CfA is a low-level organization, one that can enable other organizations to use their open-source technology for a myriad of purposes.
Another similarity: the Knight News Challenge. Like CfA, the News Challenge is primarily about the development of new open-source projects than it is about funding a news team to produce content.
Digital First Media announced in 2011 a spin-off company called Digital First Ventures that sounds very much like what I’m suggesting, but so far there hasn’t been much visible activity.
The Philadelphia Experiment is also very similar to what I’m looking for: a downsized newspaper offers cheap rent in their office building in exchange for collaboration on apps that startup tech companies are building. Awesome.
Spot.us is somewhat similar, but it’s more like a Kickstarter for individual stories.
J-Lab had a program called New Voices that offered grants to non-profit news organizations. It’s probably the closest I’ve found to the model I’m thinking about, but it ended in 2010.
Are there other examples?
What if there were an organization that offered seed funding and office space to journalism teams that focus equally on content and technology?
Would investing in a news team using a record label or book publisher model make sense?
Or – following the model of accelerator programs like Y Combinator and TechStars – would each news team be an individual company, and the larger organization would provide seed funding in exchange for equity?
Either model could work, and maybe offering both programs would be possible. Maybe a news team would start out with a deal to release an application the same way bands make deals to release an album. Successful news teams with app contracts are then offered seed funding in exchange for equity.
So this big news organization – let’s call it a news accelerator – it exists to give content/tech teams that focus on news a chance to produce work that can’t be done part-time while working other jobs. A news accelerator would be looking for teams with technological, information gathering, community building, and storytelling skills.
A news accelerator program might set aside some funds for teams that focus on the city or region that it is based in, and some for national or international reporting.
Teams would release versions of the software they build as open source, and their content would be released under the Creative Commons license.
Teams might build applications with paid subscription options, they could create books, films, or games that could be sold or subscribed to, and they could sell advertising. The teams and the news accelerator would share the revenue.
This sounds pretty great – it’s something I would apply to – so how does it happen?
Who creates it?