here for PDF format
for participants' responses to this summary.
of Discussion with Bruce Benidt
8301 Creekside Circle,
Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, May 15,
(chair), David Broden, Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland (phone), Jan Hively,
McDonald, John Mooty, Jim Olson (phone), Wayne Popham (phone)
Context of the meeting—The
Civic Caucus is increasingly concerned with the future of media in state,
and its role in civic and public affairs. What does the future of the news
business look like? What possible models exist? Are they profitable.
communications consultant and a former newspaperman himself, will provide
insights from his perspective of a leader in the ‘Save the Strib’
Welcome and introductions—Bruce
Benidt is a communications consultant. He is a frequent facilitator of
strategy, team-building, leadership and planning sessions, and has been a
national keynote speaker on communications and learning. He has more than
25 years of experience in communications as a public relations executive,
college teacher and daily newspaper reporter.
After 12 years with
Weber Shandwick, Bruce started his own consulting and coaching business in
2001. Prior to working in public relations, Bruce was for 10 years a daily
newspaper reporter, most recently with the
Tribune. He was an assistant professor of journalism for four years at
Minnesota State University, and has been part of the adjunct journalism
faculty at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul for 20 years.
Welcome also to Jan
Hively, a new participant with the Caucus core group.
Comments and discussion—During
the internal discussion, the following points were raised:
1, Broken economic model for newspapers--Bruce
opens by asking if anyone present has seen “State of Play,” a 2009 movie
starring Russell Crowe as a reporter, digging up a story (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0473705).
The movie shows the mechanics of printing papers, with towering machines
and massive gears. Very heavy operation. “No wonder the business is going
away,” Bruce said, in the face of new technologies.
before a story is even published and printed somebody needs to do the
legwork: sit in city council meetings, follow a beat, go to the doors of a
business or organization that needs to be checked out. Who is now going to
do this important component of newsgathering?
believes Minnesota can find an answer to preserving great daily journalism
– whether it’s delivered on newsprint or on the web or in new ways. It
will take creative thinkers who know web marketing and networking,
journalism and business. The traditional newspaper may die, but we need to
make sure good journalism and an informed community don’t die also. That
requires a new approach to creating and delivering a daily newspaper, to
meeting people’s needs for news, information and entertainment.
2. Fewer news reporters--Many people
in media today, such as bloggers and commentators, are not doing real
reporting, he says. The danger of having newspapers die is not the fall of
media companies making 20 percent margins, but that there are fewer
reporters on the beat. Those left are working twice as hard, and in many
cases have less experience.
case of the Star Tribune, a member asked about the role of its debt load
in the paper’s troubles. What has hit the paper is a perfect storm, Bruce
said, to use one reporter’s term. The owners went into deep debt to
purchase it, and the paper now operates at a loss, on top of factors such
as advertising migrating to websites, the economy falling apart and
asked if there is anyone saying to Bruce: Newspapers are dead, accept it?
Conventional wisdom says they are dead, he replied, but some smart people
3. Finding a way forward with entrepreneurs--We
can’t let this decline in the quality of newsgathering happen, Bruce
insisted. A member asked: Do you have an answer?
replied, but he has an approach. We need to get entrepreneurs in here.
Bruce described himself as ‘a convener; independent, trying to bring
plant is too expensive. Nobody knows how to make money on the web where
newspapers have been giving away their product for free. But Bruce is
convinced that there is a way forward, if creative people try new
solutions.. “There need to be three or four different kinds of people at
the table: a technology visionary; someone that understands journalism; an
angel investor with a civic conscience. This is the kind of
entrepreneurial team that will be able to make progress.
4. Ideas around the future of the news
are bringing ideas to the Save the Strib movement. They are being
innovative in finding ways to charge for things other than advertisements
papers are streaming video from third parties, he said. Or the paper could
“out-Craigslist, Craigslist.” Others have suggested theme-specific
editions of a paper, with perhaps seven or eight different focuses printed
out and delivered in a smaller-than-full-size, as requested. There could
be an arts version, a policy version.
breaking down the lines of how reporters are paid, Bruce followed. Seymour
Hersh, a well known reporter, is not employed by anyone. He sells his
work. Editors may call him and request his assistance on a story.
5. Possible new model for news gathering and
distribution--This leads to an idea among those present: a
‘journalist institute,’ where reporters come together cooperatively, have
desks and overhead, then sell their news to people who in turn print and
possible example of a new model:
cooperative, independent journalists
production and distribution
Run presses; use
6. Non-profit newspapers?--Would it
be possible for newspapers to operate as non-profits? Congress is looking
to make it easier, Bruce replied, for media to make that shift. MinnPost
operates as a non-profit but it cannot endorse candidates.
community foundations finance a non-profit paper? They may have a role, in
supporting a journalist institute or in providing startup money for new
ideas. One member worried that foundations cannot subsidize losing
enterprises—media is too big, and it would take away from other
commitments of the foundations. There needs to be—must be—a ways to make
agreed, but other members said that foundations may have a strategic role
to play, assisting in areas of the business where they can be of most
7. New ways to read the news--A
member said that he uses the internet to collect and group different
stories he wants to read. Another says that he likes hard copies of papers
so that he can read them at his discretion. You can do both, Bruce said,
and will be able to do so with more ease in the future. Amazon just came
out with a larger Kindle, a portable electronic reader which could
organize stories. Or some digital entrepreneur might print out and put
together an amalgamation of news stories, personalized by someone on their
computer, and bring it to you. This is the kind of thinking that needs to
Pioneer Press is going to begin charging for web content. The Wall Street
Journal does. The Strib has print-only stories. People are starting to
nibble-back, Bruce said, but subscription fees are not the only—or even
the primary—source of revenue, so this will have a limited impact.
8. Citizen v. professional journalism--A
member pointed out that the Twin Cities Daily Planet fields writings from
community members, and accepts for publication based on its quality and
There is a
paper in North East Mississippi, http://nems360.com/, with a fleet of
citizen journalists, Bruce followed, and this may be one answer to who
might sit in those boring meetings. But, “citizen and professional
journalists are differently-orientated.” Professional journalists have
special training to examine and present information in an unbiased
fashion. Citizen journalists are often very talented, he said—in cases
more so than professional journalists—but their lack of professional
status is a big drawback. Local issues may be difficult to cover in an
noted that good reporters are those that can go to events and understand
them, to know what’s going on and read between the lines, and “not get
9. Finding leadership in
for innovation in newsgathering-distribution--A
member asked Bruce if he sees any evidence of a leader in
who will strive to save the collective news media?
several groups devoted to this, Bruce said, and the beginnings of people
with money that might act as angel investors to new ideas. This is a civic
good, and we need investors willing to receive lower monetary returns but
realize running media provides a civic benefit.
We need a
process for innovation in newsgathering, he continued, not a static
‘solution.’ There is not going to be one solution that works into
perpetuity. Times are always changing now.
asked if Bruce is aware of anywhere in the country with leadership on
this? He replied that he didn’t know, but that could be his ignorance.
Many places are trying to save something old, he noted, and that will not
wondered if the Governor should convene an action group. Another member
countered that business should be the one to step in and provide
leadership, admitting that, “This is good for us, and good for society.”
creates this thing, Bruce said, referring to a new media model, will get
bitten by it. Remember that the media is critical, and is nobody’s pet.
They will be creating a public good, but it won’t necessarily be friendly
10. Possible next steps in
for a new approach to news--
A member asked Bruce what he sees as the end-goal of his role, in this.
for me is a group of people at a table that say, ‘Yes—we’re going to do
this,’ and either buy out the remains of the Strib, allow the two papers
to die and move in, or take some other approach.
point is,” he said, “that entrepreneurs need to move in.”
his role as a convener, bringing people together who can (perhaps with his
help) frame and move an action plan. “I then have no problem backing
away,” he said.
problem here is not about selling the news. The Strib website is the 10th
busiest in the country, while
is only the 14th largest city. They must be doing something
right, he said. The challenge is ad revenue, which probably won’t come
back. But there must be a business model that works; it just needs to be
11. Whether the Civic Caucus approach should be expanded--It
was noted that the Civic Caucus circulates a limited amount of information
that isn't news but is more discussion of issues prior to news events or
after the news events have occurred. We interview people with knowledge
and ideas about certain issues and distribute their comments in a manner
that is easily followed. We're able to cover only a limited number of
topics and circulate that information only to a limited number of readers.
There might be potential for expanding this approach to become a modest
supplement to the regular news-gathering-distribution process.
talk about covering events, writing notes, and using those as a piece of
reporting for the public good. “Someone goes to a nice event,” a member
said, “sits quietly, leaves with some materials under their arm. But all
content is lost. To put together and send around notes would keep ideas
alive that are presented, even though there may be no ‘news’.”
approaches the way journalists used to operate, and has been used in
public affairs for many years. “Verbatim
summaries are worthless, absolutely worthless,” the member said. “You need
someone who knows what is going on to cover something and write it up,”
with context. This person may be someone in the field with expertise, an
executive, a journalist, etc.
could be a bulletin board for such a process, Bruce said. This sounds like
a very viable tool for getting quality content for no cost to the
distributor. It also departs from citizen journalism a bit, reserving the
writing of notes for someone with special qualification relative to the
went out to Bruce, from the group. “Let me know if I can be helpful,” he