About a week ago, traditional publishing giant McGraw Hill announced it wanted to sell or spin BusinessWeek, one of the most venerable of all American business publications. The news, I am told, stunned most of the editors and reporters still there.
So far, almost no one has pointed to a possible acquirer and almost everyone close to the matter believes BusinessWeek is going to have to change business models if it is to survive. So far, at least two well-known BusinessWeek writers have suggested possible solutions. Design writer Bruce Nussbaum suggested two new models; the first being sort of an ongoing forum on selected business topics and the second by Stephen Baker, who covers social media suggests converting a portion of the publication into a wiki.
In 2005, while I was writing Naked Conversations, Baker really irked me by implying that somehow journalistic standards for blogging were inferior to those required to write for BusinessWeek. For a while I nursed an idea of taking him on in my book, until on the third or fourth revision of the book, I realized that Baker had a valid point.
As a blogger, I often post content on one draft. As readers remind me, I often miss obvious and blatant typos. I have no editor questioning and filtering what I have to say. I have no colleagues sharing an anecdote or insight that will make my story better. When writing books, I undergo much more editorial scrutiny, but even there, it is not the hard-nosed, Devil's Advocate style of a quality news editor who has general authority over the content provider.
This is true, not just for me. It is true for most social media writers who provide original content. Few of us are parts of a team and only a tiny handful of online social publications have our copy scrutinized and challenged by editors.
Yet, in recent years, we are the ones who are finding--and telling--an increasing portion of the world's stories. A 19-year-old, Dutch kid named Casper Oppenhuis de Jong, tweeted the first news of the Szechuan Earthquake to the west, where traditional media picked it up; Janis Krums was just trying to get to New Jersey, when a plane landed on the Hudson River when he took a TwitPic of a plane landing. The increasing role of people with cameras and connected devices in Mumbai, Gaza and Tehran have driven the point home with drama and flair in the last year. Traditional media have turned to people on the streets of the world to get the information of the world and share it with subscribers.
And yet there is an ambivalence about it, I imagine at places like BusinessWeek. We on the streets are unknown factors. We do not always report with accuracy. Sometimes, as is the case currently in Iran, we won't even reveal who we are or what sources we have. Many, like Casper or Janis, had no plans to contribute to citizen journalism. Casper was in a bookstore so he could Skype home to his folks in Amsterdam. Janis parked in New Jersey because it was cheaper than driving into Manhattan. And yet they both changed the information the world needed--and wanted.
Stephen Baker, talks about the "last 5%," that extra effort many elite publications take with pride to get the precise words that make a story more accurate and polished. He's right. Very few social media writers have time, desire or talent to do that.
The world will not be a better place, however, if the salvation of BusinessWeek is in snipping off that last 5% of quality. And the world will not be a better place if the extremely talented team that is BusinessWeek succumbs to the extreme challenges that traditional media organizations face today.
It seems to me that most people see the value of both the disciplines of old media and the speed and breadth of new media. It seems to me that the news organization of the future will need to braid these two camps of traditional and citizen journalists into something that emerges into something new and different; something that does not yet exist but needs to; something that can cut the costs of printing inefficiencies while increasing the speed in which information is distributed.
This new, "braided" BusinessWeek, would of course move to online only. It would abandon the antiquated concept of news being released once weekly. It would do almost everything that the organization is already doing at BusinessWeek.com, but it would become a much more social platform, incorporating functionality from independent blogs, tweets, YouTube and podcasts.
In my [undetailed] vision for an braided BusinessWeek, the organization would use content submitted by social media people. It would not be instantly published. Editors would revise, challenge and polish. The news would be posted as quickly as possible.
There would also be some form of revenue sharing. Instead of just giving a blogger a stringer's pittance, the social media person and the publication would revenue share any advertising. BusinessWeek would cover local business news and offer advertising to local and regional advertisers.
I hope it's not too late for BusinessWeek. If it is, I hope some other publication will look at this concept of braiding traditional and citizen journalism in a social media venue as an enduring solution to an chronic problem.