News Leadership 3.0

August 28, 2008

5 W’s: The new economics

Duke expert sees few paydays
for civic news and information

This is another in a series of posts about key tools and take aways from KDMC’s 2008 Leadership Conference.

The five W’s have long shaped thinking about the basic content of a news story. James. T. Hamilton, a professor at Duke University, offers five economic W’s for thinking about what constitutes news in the marketplace:
1. Who cares about a particular piece of information
2. What are they willing to pay to find it, or what are others willing to pay to reach them?
3. Where can media outlets or advertisers reach these people?
4. When is it profitable to provide the information?
5. Why is this profitable?

Hamilton, in a presentation at KDMC’s Leadership Conference in July 2008, presented a second list of that broadly categorizes news and information:
1. Producer information - What you need to help you do your job
2. Consumer information - What you need to find a product.
3. Entertainment—Fun things to do.
4. Civic information—.What you need to make informed voter decisions.

Consumers are willing to pay for the first three types of information. Unfortunately for the news industry, Hamilton contends, they generally are not willing to pay for No. 4, civic information.  Hamilton believes that people are “willfully ignorant” when it comes to politics. Even if they care about civic affairs, they realize their vote probably doesn’t make a difference statistically.  (Add to that the ubiquity of political headlines and you can see why traditional news organizations are struggling.) “That is what drives some of the problems you’re involved in,” Hamilton told editors at the Leadership Conference.

Hamilton believes primary sources of funding for civic information must shift from the traditional model to foundation or other non-commercial funding.

Learn more about these ideas in “All the News That’s Fit to Sell” by James T. Hamilton, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2006. Hamilton is the Charles S. Sydnor Professor of Public Policy, Economics, and Political Science.

Do you think people in your community are willing to pay for civic news and information? In the future, where do you think funding will come for reporting on civic affairs? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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