The report

THE FINDINGS: From Persona to Payment

report-coverFive Information Trust Exchange Project task-group meetings in 2015 and project-planning work during 2016 were informed by a research report completed during 2014 and 2015 by RJI Fellow Bill Densmore. The report (DOWNLOAD PDF VERSION) is entitled “From Persona to Payment: A STATUS REPORT ON THE NEWS ECOSYSTEM, AND A CHALLENGE TO CREATE THE NEXT ONE — Could a public-benefit collaboration sustain journalism — and privacy — in a new market for digital information?”

Based on 85-plus interviews, the report concluded:

  • There is a significant “coalition of the willing” among those 85 people — some 30 or so were explicitly willing to help — at least 25 through participation on a provisional steering committee.2 What motivates them varies across a spectrum of challenges and interests discussed in the following pages. 
  • For all the “willing,” many interviewees express deep doubt that the newspaper industry – specifically — can muster a cultural shift necessary to collaborate across corporate ownerships. Yet the hunger for leadership and the perception that the industry must do something transformative is stronger than in 2011 or 2008. 
  • The news industry lacks a system for variable pricing and exchange of individual items of news content in real time. Yet in the last 10 years, the advertising industry has innovated sophisticated “programmatic” technologies that allow in milliseconds the variable pricing, bidding, selection, tracking and billing of advertisements to targeted, unique consumers. Indeed, there was no one, including technologists, who thinks creating technology to achieve the objectives of a user and content sharing exchange is a difficult financial or engineering challenge. The challenge they see is how to identify and stick to agreed mission and value propositions. 
  • The news industry also lacks a common system for single-signon or user authentication across multiple news websites. Yet in the last 10 years, Tier 1 U.S. universities running on the Internet 2 network have used open-source Shiboleth and SAML trust technology to achieve single login across 100 independent campuses and institutions. 
  • Indeed, there was no one, including technologists, who thought creating technology to achieve the objectives of a user and content sharing exchange is a difficult financial or engineering challenge. The challenge they see is how to identify and stick to an agreed mission and value propositions. 
  • For those interviewees who believe something is possible, almost none doubted that RJI could be in a position to help provide convening, collaborative and administrative leadership. On this point, several interviewees explicitly see leadership from academia as potentially capable of overcoming vestiges of competitive fervor and cross-industry suspicion. 
  • A few others, however, worry that academia cannot move quickly enough, or could not infuse a project with entrepreneurial or competitive fervor. Yet the reality is that the news industry has not moved by itself to solve its sustainability challenges with the benefit of traditional business incentives and forms. For this reason, support from non-platform-owning tech companies would be helpful. 
  • Some interviewees raise concern about illegal collusion or monopolization which could result from collaboration. Our finds these “antitrust” concerns likely unfounded, based upon well-documented examples of sanctioned collaboration around technical standards or services that create a more efficient public market. Any collaboration will need to access expert legal and practical knowledge in this area.

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