Early Spring in 2010, a series of stories launched in the Los Angeles Times. Set in Bell California, a small corner of LA County, the Times began reporting a city hall corruption story and the scandal would ultimately send the City Administrator to prison for 12 years.
“I breached the public’s confidence,” Rizzo tells Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy. “I am very sorry for that.”
This story shined as an example of the LA Times making good on their journalistic promise to hold power to account and serve the public interest.
The lead reporter won a Pulitzer Prize.
Today, local news publishers face a severe economic challenge. Statistics run as high as 60% of the people employed as reporters in the US have lost their jobs since 2006. The kind of public interest journalism exemplified by the LA Times in the Bell California story is going undone in small towns and municipalities across the country.
This is dangerous and needs to be reversed.
There are many reasons for the dire economic circumstances local news organizations face today. Some of these circumstances are self inflicted and some are the result of changing consumer habits as readers shift from paper to digital engagement. Local newspapers have been slow to understand the dynamics of these macro shifts and left the emerging digital market to others to dominate.
In an attempt to compensate for declining revenue, local news organizations have in recent years turned to alternative revenue streams including content recommendation platforms. These companies pay local news organizations to place low quality or clickbait content on their websites in return for revenue. While this arrangement provides incremental revenue to the local news organization, it also erodes trust in the organization by associating them with very low quality and obviously clickbait or otherwise unethical content.
Additionally, by placing links on their websites to these low quality clickbait content sources, they leak users and data to an ecosystem designed to facilitate fraud and disinformation.
What if there was a way to provide incremental revenue to local news publishers based on high quality content from trustworthy sources?
What if this recommended content was not only high quality but was provided in a way that enabled further onsite engagement for the local news publisher mitigating user and data leakage to the dark side of the content ecosystem?
Distributed Media Lab is designed to establish a model that can be scaled across the industry and achieves these goals. Namely:
- Provide revenue to local news publishers.
- Enhance trust in local news publishers.
- Provide distributed audience to premium publishers.
- Mitigate leakage of users and data.
DML is pursuing this ambition by building a platform and products that provide publishers with the technologies and tools necessary to harness the unique and decentralized architecture of the open web. We build the stuff publishers need to be more like platforms natively oriented for the open web.
We’re just getting started.
We spent 2018 launching and iterating the core components of a new content distribution platform. Now in 2019 we are adding monetization and starting to scale our platform presence in the market.
We don’t know where this will lead, but we do know it’s a path worth pursuing. We’re doing what we can to fix the economics for journalism and ensure it remains viable in the emerging digital era.