To say that a lot of great ideas came out of New Story last week would be like saying a few people in Pittsburgh are kind of interested in ice hockey right now.
It’s amazing what happens when you get a bunch of smart people together that are willing to wipe the slate clean of existing assumptions and think outside the box.
Over the coming weeks I’ll be capturing those ideas at The Hub blog, in order to keep the momentum going on the conversations we started at New Story, and hopefully tease out some new ideas and spark some original responses.
But there’s one thread from yesterday that I feel an urgent need to start following today.
Money. Money money.
During even the most optimistic discussions of grassroots media initiatives – local bloggers, community news websites etc – the elephant in the room was always financial sustainability.
More than one panelist at New Story touched on the fact that, while it’s great to have people volunteering as writers and photographers etc, it isn’t sustainable. People burn out. Plus, writing, photography and web design are professions, and it’s important to respect them as such. (You don’t expect an electrician or mechanic to donate his or her services, do you?)
Like it or not, making money is a critical part of our efforts to create new media initiatives that will help change the narrative in West Virginia.
But I don’t think we are intentional enough about the finance part when we consider and launch these efforts.
I’m guilty of this myself. The night before New Story I met with some of our media and community development partners from across the region to brainstorm ideas about how we would create new opportunities for journalists, and potentially build innovative new media outlets.
Explicitly, we were talking about job creation – jobs for journalists. Media initiatives – newspapers, websites, podcasts, whatever – are built by journalists, right? Wrong. They are built by money people. Sales reps. Account managers.
They are built by Rainmakers.
Rethinking the model
From the New York Times down to the smallest community blog, every sustainable and successful media product has a person dedicated to monetizing the content that is produced – finding sponsors, advertisers and business partners. They are bringing money in the door so the journalists can keep doing their jobs.
I’ve met with a number of newspaper editors and publishers in West Virginia over the last few months. Some of them look very suspiciously at new digital media sites. And typically the first thing they say is, “well, this is all fine and good, but it isn’t making any money.”
Well, of course it isn’t. These grassroots projects usually don’t have any sales staff. The best newspaper, radio or television station in the world wouldn’t generate any revenue if there weren’t any staff dedicated to sales.
While making an investment in a Rainmaker may seem like a stretch for budding media initiatives, the thing we always need to remember is that good ones pay for themselves many times over.
The way media initiatives make money these days is very different than it was 10 years ago. It’s no longer just about print ads and classifieds.
Now, reporting projects are funded by philanthropists, foundations and responsible corporations; freelancers repurpose content across multiple platforms; photographers create their own marketplace websites to sell images; innovative companies contract with journalists and storytellers to explore issues related to their mission.
Good Rainmakers think outside the box.
All this got me rethinking the model – the model for training media professionals, and the model for creating new media initiatives. For every three or four reporters we train, we should be also training one Rainmaker – a business or marketing graduate who knows how to monetize new media content. For every three or four reporters, photographers or web folks we recruit for a media project, we need to also recruit one Rainmaker.
No longer can this money person be considered an optional extra. If we are to oversee and inspire the growth of more and better local blogs, community news sites, newspapers, audio shows and documentaries, how to monetize that community news and information content needs to be among the first things we plan for, not the last.
Are you interested in joining a growing community of media and communications professionals
in West Virginia dedicated to creative innovation and change? Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.