Information reinvention is upon us

Information reinvention is happening right before our eyes.

Detroit started it with its home delivery cut that lead to a rise in online useage. The Star Tribune decided it would hold back some web content and offer its readers print exclusives. Advance announced it would shut the Ann Arbor News in favor of a strong, community oriented web site.

And that’s not all. A group of former reporters from the Seattle PI have started SeattlePostGlobe.org, a partnership with the local PBS station and weekly newspaper. TrueSlant.com has started a model in which local bloggers make money based on the number of readers they draw to the site.

All of these are clearly experiments. For an industry loathe to take chances, experimentation is all of a sudden hotter than an August day in Miami.

We know the traditional newspaper revenue model, in many markets, is dead, which puts our ability to provide information to our communities at risk. Every one of the above experiments are excellent ways to begin gathering information and better understand what the public will pay for in this new digital information age.

The SeatlleGlobe is a good example. It appears they hope ads and donations will keep them afloat. Innovative partnerships with non-profit TV helps them solicit donations that can be written off by donors. Donations for journalism could raise some impartiality questions — what if a donor wanted a story quashed, or more attention paid to a minor matter that the trained journalists normally wouldn’t cover? But, maybe those are old questions that have no place in a new information world.

And there are real questions whether any of these experiments will work. I think the Star Tribune and Detroit have the best chance. Despite the tough times, each have money behind them, and they can shift their substantial resources to bolster their new efforts.

I really admire what the SeatllePostGlobe and TrueSlant are trying to do. But it’s tough getting advertisers to support new sites, and it’s harder to find a stable of donors willing to consistently pay newspaper subscription prices for an online product. SeattlePostGlobe hopes donors will pay $240 a year each — about the cost of a Seattle Post Intelligencer subscription. Tough as it is, you have to admire their grit and determination — two qualities that will keep journalism thriving.

All of these experiments have tremendous value to the digital industry. While they won’t work in total, there will be pieces of each that will work, pieces that we can incoporate in our digital strategies. These pieces will help lead media companies into the digital information reinvention that’s happening right before us.

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