Digital transformation in newsrooms means focusing on readers not platforms.
David Skok

This seems to be the start of a very interesting thought process. I will be very interested to see where it takes us.

I started to say where it goes, then where you go, but realized that the essence of my reaction so far is better expressed by where it takes us. You rightly focus on the readers, which seems an implicit recognition that journalism is not a product, but a service. What matters about your series is not where it goes, or you go, but where you and your readers go together (as dyads and in larger groupings).

Very true, journalism is not a matter of production platforms, but of readers. But it seems that two important issues are being confounded. This becomes clearer when we look at emerging business theory, which applies not only to journalism, but broadly (especially with respect to the transformations of our digital economy).

  1. The issue of focusing on readers is really an issue of service versus product. An emerging teaching in business theory is the idea that what businesses do is co-create value with their customers, and that co-creation occurs with the use of a service, not the consumption of a product. What matters is value in use — the value that matters is not inherent in the product, but in what is done with the product. Storytelling is something that happens between the storyteller and the reader, often with significant bi-directionality. That ties to the nature of service relationships, and is why some form of recurring relationship (such as some form of subscription/membership) is central to the economic sustainability of journalism. I don’t see any focus on journalism as a service here yet, and hope to see you go there.
  2. Platforms are a tool for co-creating value in service relationships with readers, and can support either or both of production and use. The discussion here seems to be focused on the production platforms that create the journalistic product (including the “digital product” you refer to). What about the usage platforms that support and connect the actors who co-create the service of journalism — the platforms that connect journalists with their readers? There is need for better usage platforms to facilitate this service connection, including dialog on what to report on, comments on the reporting, and joint assessments of the value of the service. That is where the new platforms for both direct and third-party distribution are lacking. That is what some current efforts in journalism (such as membership models) seem to be haltingly moving toward. (It is also a nexus for better synergy between publishers and social media platforms.) I hope to seeing your perspectives on that.

I look forward to seeing a clearer focus on this issue of journalism as a service that is co-created with its readers. I think that will help make the path forward far more clear.


Some explanatory notes

My current work is on the nature of digital content as a service and how explicit focus on the value of that service will transform not only journalism, but most other content-related services. A specific focus is the FairPay strategy, which pulls much of this together for journalism, and more broadly (and suggests a direction to move toward).

That work led me to the scholarly work on services I refer to, with its elucidation of the importance of Service-Dominant Logic (in contrast to traditional Goods-Dominant Logic). The idea here is simple — we have thought of economics and business in terms of goods (/products), but what matters is services. Goods/products are valuable only in so far as they enable a service, and that involves both “producer” and “consumer” working in cooperation. Journalism would do well to consider this body of thought.

Related to that is the idea of value-based pricing, which is one of the foundations of “The Subscription Economy” — prices should be based on value in use, and that is defined in relationships. Subscriptions (/memberships) are ways to strengthen that relationship, but this value-based mind-set can inform the whole spectrum from one-off reads to deep relationships. News is an experience good, with a value that can only be evaluated in terms of how it is used with respect to its individual readers. Journalism should focus on its value as realized by readers and enhancing the relationships that support that — better platforms for using news can facilitate that.

(This logic of product versus service relates also to your excellent NiemanLab article, What Lies Beyond Paywalls, which I commented on in a blog post.)

(David, I would welcome the opportunity to explore this with you — I can be reached through the contact information on my blog.)