Beyond Thunderdome: Innovate How News Is Sold


April 3, 2014

Dan Kennedy has a good wrap-up (and so does Newsosaur) of the demise of Digital First Media’s impending collapse following the closure of their Thunderdome Project.

I believe Thunderdome was an innovative process, but it was not enough innovation, sticking to the production side of things, rather than the actual model of news content was sold. Little there has changed: Digital First Media is still producing newspapers (and websites), then trying to get advertisers to advertise in them while also trying to get readers to subscribe to them. What changed was not the business model, but the way the newspapers and websites got made: with a centralized news production process.

Creating a centralized desk for news production is a significant effort; The News Gods know how resistant journalists are to change. But while it attacks the issue of cost (much in the same way Journatic attempted), it does nothing to actually change the system for how compensation is obtained for the news created.

If you’ve looked at any news organization’s P&L, you wouldn’t likely find much innovation in Digital First Media. It was still make news > get subscribers > get advertisers. The innovators are ditching the advertising models, or minimizing them.

In the last year, we’ve seen the launch of ReCode.net, Walt Mossberg & Kara Swisher’s tech site that relies on conference revenue, as does Digiday.com, the ad and publishing news site and Pando.com, a tech news site that’s beginning to focus on new conference offerings. TheInformation.com, a tech news site launched by former WSJ staff, is subscription-based. Skift.com, a travel industry news site founded by the creator of PaidContent.com, Rafat Ali, makes its money from travel industry analysis reports.

It’s not innovation anymore to change how you make the news, you have to change how you sell the news.